On 21st June this year, we are celebrating 100 years of learning disability nursing. Well…….some of us are.
One hundred years is an incredible achievement for a profession that many do not know exists, a profession, which continually faces criticism and judgements about the value of it from within and external to the profession. A profession that last month was rocked, shocked, disheartened and disappointed by devastating reports into the continual health inequalities experienced by people with learning disabilities leading to premature and avoidable deaths of people with learning disabilities.
On top of this a Panorama undercover documentary, which highlighted some of the most negative aspects of the care and treatment of people with learning disabilities in services today. Panorama showed a programme, which exposed the ability for abusers to be empowered to humiliate, bully, degrade and deny basic human rights of respect, dignity, choice, independence to vulnerable people with learning disabilities, some of whom are placed hundreds of miles away from their families. People, who continue to be displaced and disregarded, isolated and ignored.
Outcry: a strong expression of public disapproval or anger
There has been an outcry within our profession, from people with learning disabilities and their families and other stakeholders. Frustration about the lack of progress moving on from Winterbourne, and other scandals, Muckamore Abbey, Sutton and Merton, Cornwall, Ely, to name some higher profile events, sadly we know there are many others. There have been statements produced by various groups invested in the care and support of people with learning disabilities and many calls to action, some critical of professionals and regulatory bodies and undoubtedly there will be another inquiry.
Speaking to a group of nurses recently who openly acknowledge feeling uninspired by the 100-year celebrations has really challenged me to think about how we can engage nurses in our profession to become further involved but also be heard.
Social media is very powerful, however many nurses using Twitter or Facebook, recognise their responsibility as role models and leaders within the profession and often share the more positive aspects of the role, the purpose of this generally being to raise morale, inspire others to act as role models and celebrate what we do. The ultimate purpose is to raise the profile of people with learning disabilities and learning disability nurses and to inspire others into the profession.
Challenging discussions may take place in social media forums and are often very respectful and professional. However, there are nurses who are not using these forums either by choice or by lack of awareness and they may not engage further than their own social and collegiate groups, checking out their thoughts with other likeminded people, within their own identifiable network and reinforcing their own views. This can mean potentially not experiencing other perceptions, challenge, or opportunity to show humility and be exposed to other ideas. This can also mean that others are influenced by these views. Cultures can persist.
Is this a time to celebrate?
A question has been asked: ‘how we can think about celebrating 100 years when things continue to be so bad for people with learning disabilities?’ Although this is a difficult message for us to hear, it is useful that nurses feel able to express this openly. As professionals, leaders and role models in learning disability nursing we have a responsibility to promote a positive image of the people that we work with and our profession, not everyone recognises this. Some nurses pride themselves on their anti-establishment, critical and ‘off-message’ views, which challenge the positive messages being promoted by leaders and colleagues. Being positive about celebrating a historic event such as 100 years of learning disability nursing does not mean that we are naïve to the wider issues and continuing battles for people with learning disabilities in our society today. It means that we want to show how we can make a difference. Action takes many forms. While it has to be appreciated that badges, cakes and coffee mornings may not make immediate steps towards promoting better societal access and health care support for people with learning disabilities, these events do provide opportunities to come together and feel part of a wider community with shared vision and goals. Many of the events across the UK have had people with learning disabilities central to them (rightly so!).
At a time when recruitment issues persist, the retirement time bomb hits and when experience, skill and passion is leaving the profession in high numbers any opportunity to celebrate who we are, and shout about what we do, need to be embraced.
Not every learning disability nurse will join in the celebrations
It must be acknowledged within our leadership networks that there are a group of people who continue to fly their flag, fight their battles and on occasion challenge the more positive aspects of our profession. Perhaps for some the celebrations seem superficial or meaningless at this moment in time. Maybe it would be helpful to see this not as cynicism but as a different expression of passion or maybe even that some of these nurses may feel as devalued as the people we are trying to support?
It does not feel right to not acknowledge the need for this conversation. I wonder how many colleagues have felt this in their networks, explicitly or not? It remains important that those of us in a position to lead on making change happen (all of us), are honest about the messages coming from other nurses, for whatever reason.