Acclimatisation programme reduces stress of hospital stays
Spurred into action by the unacceptable number of people with learning disabilities dying prematurely – and preventably – Nicci Isaac devised a programme to improve the experience and care of children and young people in hospital.
The learning disability nurse’s project Get Me Better aims to make inpatient stays a positive experience, and help reduce individuals’ anxiety that might be prompted by unfamiliar noises, smells and lighting. It also helps ensure staff are able to care for people with a learning disability.
Children and young people from special inclusive learning centres attend sessions in children's wards and emergency departments, and at the dental hospital.
The ‘virtual wards’ build tolerance of the hospital setting and provide an opportunity for acute hospital staff to build their confidence and competence in supporting and interacting with children with learning disabilities.
The sessions involve graded exposure to experiences such as being in a hospital bed, sitting in a wheelchair, having plaster of Paris applied, dressing up in scrubs and sitting in a dentist’s chair.
Nicci, who works for Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, tested her idea on parents in her caseload and secured the support of colleague Sadie Dunne at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust to help develop the initiative and write course material. There is now a rolling programme of visits.
Children and young people have become used to the procedures after taking part in a Get Me Better group. Hospital staff have enjoyed the sessions and, having seen the children and young people ‘at play’, they felt better equipped to identify when someone is anxious and intervene to reassure them.
Nicci is a finalist in the Cambian-sponsored learning disabilities category of the RCNi Nurse Awards 2016, the profession’s top accolade for nursing excellence.
She says: ‘It feels fantastic to be shortlisted, especially as a learning disability nurse, because it's an area of nursing that has its fair share of difficulties, often requiring me to make extra efforts to achieve acceptable outcomes for the children and families I support. The recognition makes all the soul-searching worthwhile.
‘The Get Me Better group is important because it is a positive piece of multi-agency work to ultimately reduce the number of premature and preventable hospital deaths in the learning disability population. It achieves this with little cost to our already cash-strapped NHS.’
Learning Disability Practice editor Colin Parish was a judge on the shortlisting panel. He says: ‘Learning disability nurses always go the extra mile for their service users – it’s in their blood.
‘But the candidates shortlisted for this year’s RCNi Nurse Awards have shown that even more can be done to improve the lives of people with learning disabilities, whose lives are often more challenging than necessary.'
About the sponsor
Cambian is one of the largest providers of specialist behavioural health services in learning disabilities, autism, mental health rehabilitation, education, acquired brain injury rehabilitation, impaired hearing and, more recently, children’s residential care, fostering and specialised services for children experiencing sexual trauma. Our passion focuses on positive outcomes for the individuals we provide support and services to. Our nurses are critical in their delivery of care and support to ensure these outcomes can be achieved resulting in the highest possible quality of life.