Learning Disability Week: Nurses urged to take LD Pledge to improve communication

Learning sign language such as Makaton could make a huge difference to people with learning disabilities, says brainchild behind pledge

Learning sign language could make a huge difference to people with learning disabilities, says brainchild behind pledge

The daunting prospect of medical procedures or consultations in a language you do not understand is an everyday reality for people with learning disabilities – and one that nurses are being asked to change.

As part of Learning Disability Week, nurses are being asked to take the LD Pledge to improve the patient experience for people with learning disabilities.

Amanda Glennon

The LD Pledge is the brainchild of Amanda Glennon, whose 13-year-old daughter Alice has Down’s syndrome, and who has never been able to communicate directly with a health professional. 

Communication barriers

Ms Glennon said if nurses learned just a few phrases of Makaton – a form of sign language used by many people like Alice – it could make a huge difference. She said communication barriers meant that people with learning disabilities often had a negative experience of care.

‘My daughter would feel out of control. This is something that is being discussed around her and she’s not being included,’ she said.

‘The difference in just being able to say, “Hello, my name is”. Even that’s enough to help set that person at ease.’

Alice Glennon

Parents and carers also benefited from nurses being able to communicate directly with the service user, Ms Glennon said.

‘It makes a difference as a parent because my role in that situation has changed from being a parent supporting a child, to being the interpreter,’ she said.

Nurses can take the pledge by downloading Makaton resources to use in their workplace, and by sharing images of themselves taking the pledge in Makaton on social media.

One of those who have already taken the pledge is England’s chief nursing officer Ruth May.

Watch: People taking the pledge


Pivotal role

Dr May said learning nursing disability nurses play a pivotal role in the lives of families and carers and hoped more would be inspired to take up the profession.

‘Care and support for those with learning disabilities and autism are a priority in the NHS Long Term Plan, so there has never been a more important and rewarding time to be a learning disability nurse,’ she said.

Fellow pledge taker, University of Nottingham professional lead for learning disability nursing, Helen Laverty, said people with learning disabilities deserved the same standard of care as every other service user.

‘Too many people with a learning disability and their family carers are frightened about what care and outcomes will be in acute hospital services,’ she said.

‘By making this first public step to sign the LD Pledge, healthcare professionals are demonstrating a willingness to be that change.’

Learn more about the LD Pledge here

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