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RCN exhibition documents 100 years of learning disability nursing

From asylums to individualised care plans, RCN Library’s learning disability nursing exhibition is the first since its post-COVID reopening

From asylums to individualised care plans, RCN Library’s learning disability nursing exhibition is the first since its post-COVID reopening

A new exhibition tracing the origins and evolution of learning disability nursing has opened at the RCN’s Library and Heritage Centre.

Care or control: exhibition documents 100 years of care

The exhibition, called A history of care or control: 100 years of learning disability nursing, will be the first to open to the public in two years and focuses on innovations made in care and human rights of people with learning disabilities.

Opened by learning disability rights advocate and NHS England adviser Gavin Harding, the exhibition starts in the 19th

From asylums to individualised care plans, RCN Library’s learning disability nursing exhibition is the first since its post-COVID reopening

The learning disability nursing exhibition at the RCN’s Library and Heritage Centre
The learning disability nursing exhibition at the RCN’s Library and Heritage Centre

A new exhibition tracing the origins and evolution of learning disability nursing has opened at the RCN’s Library and Heritage Centre.

Care or control: exhibition documents 100 years of care

The exhibition, called A history of care or control: 100 years of learning disability nursing, will be the first to open to the public in two years and focuses on innovations made in care and human rights of people with learning disabilities.

Opened by learning disability rights advocate and NHS England adviser Gavin Harding, the exhibition starts in the 19th century when people with learning disabilities were often kept away from society in institutions, with exhibits including model ships built by James Henry Pullen at Earlswood Asylum.

Later the story covers changes and innovations made by nurses to support people with learning disabilities, and the championing of the human rights of the patients.

Mr Harding, who was the first person with a learning disability to be elected a councillor and later a town mayor of Selby in Yorkshire, shared his own experiences as a patient as he opened the show on Wednesday, 18 May. He told of how his experience of assessment treatment units in the 1990s inspired his career as a campaigner.

RCN professional lead for learning disability nursing Jonathan Beebee said: ‘We are so pleased to open this fascinating exhibition and to celebrate public access to the RCN Library and Heritage Centre.

‘Visitors will have the chance to gain a unique insight into the history of learning disability nursing and how people with learning disabilities have been supported over time, highlighting the importance of individualised care.’

The exhibition will run in London for six months, then move to RCN Scotland in Edinburgh for a further six months from November 2022.

Performances and talks accompany RCN Library’s first post-COVID exhibition

The RCN Library and Heritage Centre has released its full programme of events that will run throughout 2022.

Online and hybrid events will explore the history of treatment for a variety of conditions, as well as a performance of a new play, Sophie, about growing up with Down’s syndrome.

Joint head of the RCN library and archive service Anna Semmens said: 'After two years, the RCN Library and Heritage Centre will host its first in-person exhibition that will explore the role of learning disability nursing.

‘Throughout the pandemic, we kept open online and opened our physical library to members as soon it was safe to. It is a space so many members and supporters find beneficial.

‘This important exhibition will remind us of the challenges people with learning disabilities faced in health and care throughout the pandemic.’


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