Supporting Learning Disability Nurses

As a result of generous funding received from the Burdett Trust for Nursing, the Florence Nightingale Foundation provided a leadership programme for 42 Learning Disability Nurses working across the UK. The programme aimed to enhance the authority and influence of Learning Disability Nurses to enable them to assert their specialist knowledge and advocate for the best possible care for people with a learning disability.

The programme included an exploration of personality preferences and how this influences their communication within teams. This was followed by a practical introduction to quality improvement which aimed to support the Learning Disability Nurses to identify an area for change and develop the skills to implement this using QI methodology. The group also spent time with facilitators from The Kings Fund who focused how to exercise authority and identify their leadership identity. This was enhanced by input from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) who worked with the group on their presence and confidence to ensure their messaging had impact. The final day of the programme focused on learning a method of peer group coaching known as co-consulting to identify with each other their next steps in their professional and career development.

Each member of the group implemented their quality improvement project over a 6 month period. They were asked to submit a poster which summarised the focus, aim, method and impact of their project. The top 5 were selected to present at a celebration day which was attended by David Harling (Lead Learning Disability Nurse at NHS England/ Improvement). The winning posters focused on the following topics and were acknowledged by David as significant examples of innovation and leadership:

1. Commissioning respite locally to prevent family/ carer breakdown
2. To raise awareness of ASD among mental health staff and encourage appropriate environments that reduce patient anxiety on acute medical health wards
3. Improving the identification and flagging of patients with learning disabilities in an acute setting
4. The implementation of a complex health pathway
5. Launching a learning disabilities champions initiative in an acute hospital trust

Feedback from the programme from participants related to improved self-awareness, confidence and a rejuvenated energy for their profession and career development. Several members of the group have gone on to take up positions on a National Editorial group for the Learning Disability Nursing careers website developed by Health Education England. They are also part of an advisory group influencing National standards for a post registration specialist education pathway.

The programme was implemented during the Covid pandemic and was therefore delivered using fully virtual learning methods. Despite this, the cohort have developed a strong network and valued the support and thinking space the programme offered to them as they navigated through the constantly changing clinical environment. Whilst some nurses may have thought the timing was not right to pursue leadership development during the pandemic, these nurses demonstrated a clear commitment to developing themselves so they could support their colleagues and do their best for the people with learning disabilities accessing their services. Their tenacity and courage was phenomenal and the Florence Nightingale Foundation are proud to invite them to join their alumni network.

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