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'We need all of you and more of you' – CNO's message to conference

Combating student attrition and encouraging more people to become learning disability nurses were themes that dominated this year's Positive Choices conference. Christine Walker reports

Combating student attrition and encouraging more people to become learning disability nurses were themes that dominated this year's Positive Choices conference, reports Christine Walker

England's chief nursing officer Jane Cummings has pledged to support moves to increase the number of learning disability students coming into the profession. 

'We need all of you and more of you,' she told an audience of about 450 delegates at this year's Positive Choices conference. Her statement came after an announcement that there is to be a new 'fast track' programme for graduates to attract them into learning disability (LD) nursing – a move to halt falling numbers in LD nursing courses and concerns there are not enough nurses taking up the field of practice.

'We need to do more to build the right workforce'

'Nurses are some of the most committed people I have ever met and with learning disability that really shines through.

'As learning disability nurses you are truly a leader in all ways. You act as an advocate for familiies. It is a real privilege and quite difficult to do.

'We need to do more to build the right workforce,' she said.

Recruitment concerns

Academic adviser with Health Education England Professor Mary Lovegrove outlined results so far of the Reducing Pre-registration Attrition and Improving Retention (RePAIR) project and said: 'There is major concern about whether we are going to recruit enough students for September.'

The RePAIR project is a two-and-a-half-year study looking at why students leave their courses and what can be done to encourage them to stay. Final results will not be known for another year, but Professor Lovegrove said findings from 3,477 respondents had so far found 97% wanted to pursue their field of practice after graduating, 96% felt they had made the right decision enrolling on their course, but 74% feared going into debt, finding funding for placements a struggle, and 42% had considered leaving their course.

Progress made

Outlining the government's commitment to the Transforming Care agenda, Ms Cummings said progress had been made in closing NHS long-stay hospitals. She said it was expected that up to 50% of NHS inpatient beds would close by 2019. Latest figures showed 140 had been closed in the last year. Overall, she said the numbers of people in hospital beds who did not need to be there had fallen by 12% between 2015 and 2017 and the length of stay had also reduced.

Ms Cummings added that LD nurses could do more to ensure that GPs were encouraged to note on medical records when people registered with them had a learning disability so they could have annual health checks and be eligible for the annual flu vaccination and diabetes checks. Figures showed that about 30% were not 'flagged' as such on surgeries' databases. She also asked student and qualified nurses to do more to support a government pledge to get people with learning disabilities into employment. 

NHS England clincial lead for the learning disability programme Anne Webster told the conference that every day 30,000-35,000 people with learning disabilities are presecribed antipsychotic, antidepressant and other medication when they did not need it, leading to long-term adverse health consequeces such as obesity. 

'Stay true to your values'

Anne Webster

Outlining the Stopping Over-Medication of People (STOMP) with learning disabilities campaign she said: 'People are taking too much, too many and for too long. It's a human rights issue.' She urged nurses to stay true to their values and adhere to the Nursing and Midwifery Council code to do the best for patients in relation to STOMP.

Senior lecturer at De Montfort University, Leicester, Justine Barksby presented findings from a research study into violent incidents that lead to restraint,  which uncovered the emotional and physical impact that such incidents can have on staff and the motivation behind patients' actions.

Tricia and Tony Prosser from Hull demonstrated a pioneering book and digital care guide that they use with their son Matthew who has complex and multiple impairements. Hull University PhD candidate Gillian Hebblewhite presented research on why people with learning disabilities find enjoyment and a sense of belonging through interactive computer games such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto.

Personal accounts

Vicky Akroyd and Helen Atherton spoke about Brandesburton Hall, a former long-stay institution in East Yorkshire, and why it was important to record the stories for posterity: read more here. And Kate Brackley – who works as a clerical officer with the British Institute of Learning Disabilities, has Down's syndrome, and has taken part in the television series the Undateables – talked about living independently and living the life she wants to.

This year's two-day event, at the University of Hull, attracted LD nursing students from across the UK and Eire. It was the 14th annual event organised by founder Helen Laverty, professional lead for learning disability nursing, Queen's Medical Centre, University of Nottingham, and her team. It was inspired by Ms Laverty's belief that LD nursing students need support and encouragement early in their careers.

The conference aims to provide networking opportunities and celebrate working with people who have learning disabilities. Day one included 'whirl-wind cafes' with presentations from NHS providers on individual projects and charities, including a Makaton demonstration, and a Hull's Got Talent show with dance and song provided by children and adults with learning disabilities. 

Video highlights from Positive Choices

RCNi's editorial assistant Layla Haidrani asked students why they made the positive choice to go into LD nursing

Click here to watch the highlights

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