The event was the brainchild of learning disability nurse Joanne Delrée, the university’s external engagement lead, who developed the idea with head of department for mental health and learning disabilities Professor Sally Hardy.
“There have always been those who question the need for the profession”
Ms Delrée said people with learning disabilities had been involved in planning the event from the outset and this cut to the heart of what learning disability nursing was all about.
“Changing perceptions of people with learning disabilities and valuing their contribution to society is a key role of the learning disability nurse. This needs to extend to all areas including academia,” she told Nursing Times.
“Including people in events like this demonstrates what people with learning disabilities are able to do given the right support and encouragement,” she added. “It gives people whose voices are often ignored or overlooked a platform to show us how eloquent they can be and how valuable their contributions actually are.”
The event on 27 June, which has the theme “Our health, our future”, has been jointly devised by the university and local advocacy groups for people with learning disabilities including Lewisham People’s Parliament.
“Basically we just talked, and listened to what people wanted to say, then we built it into the day,” said Ms Delrée, who said she had been “blown away by how eloquently people expressed their experiences”.
“There was a lot of talk around how people felt misunderstood and undervalued, and that what they could do was overlooked and overshadowed by their having a learning disability,” she said. “With so much talent in that room, that was really heart-breaking to hear.”
She added: “Key issues really were just about their value as human beings, and their rights to good health and healthcare, which is absolutely in line with the event and what learning disability nursing is all about.”
The event includes talks by people with learning disabilities and learning disability nurses and a series of workshops and discussion groups.
“Lots of things changed as we went along because someone said something brilliant,” said Ms Delrée.
“For instance we were talking about all the horrible jargon that’s used in healthcare and how learning disability nurses can help make things more understandable,” she said. ”We were looking for a title for that workshop and a colleague with learning disabilities just said ‘find better words’ so that’s the title.”
She said it was important to celebrate the centenary of the registration of learning disability nurses because the field had “been through some tough times”.
“There have always been those who question the need for the profession, our status as nurses, our skills. But recently, it seems our skills are being understood and valued much more widely so it seems fitting to celebrate that new recognition, as well as our survival,” she said.
“It is also a great opportunity to continue to raise awareness of the profession,” she told Nursing Times.
“It gives people whose voices are often ignored or overlooked a platform”
She said London South Bank was particularly keen to celebrate its learning disability nursing courses, which were threatened with closure not so long ago.
“It seemed particularly pertinent for us to celebrate our courses and graduate learning disability nurses considering our learning disability nursing courses were threatened with closure just two years ago,” she said.
“This year we are full for both the PGDip and BSc routes already so there’s a further cause to celebrate,” added Ms Delrée.
She hoped the event would attract a range of people including policy-makers, learning disability nurses and other professionals including those “who maybe don’t have so much knowledge or experience” of the field.
“I hope the learning disability nurses and other professionals attending will feel inspired to carry on, and feel confident in the next 100 years,” she said.
“If we can educate some people about learning disability nursing, and change some people’s minds about what people with learning disabilities can do when they are given a chance, then I shall be a very happy learning disability nurse indeed,” she noted.
Find out more about the event here.