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This will be my last blog for QCS after almost three years of involvement with the company. Over that time I have written about many aspects of the world of learning disability support that are close to my heart, or that I think would be helpful and interesting for anyone out there supporting people.
I have worked with people with learning disability since 1980, on and off but mostly on. The way we view disability and the services we have to support people have changed in many ways. Back in the 80’s when I was a mere stripling of a student, learning disability nurses mostly worked in institutions. So, when I decided to do my training after having loved being a care assistant, I enrolled on a course at the same hospital.
There had been serious concerns about the experiences of institutionalised people for many years, notably the Ely Hospital scandal reported to the News of The World in the 1960s. There was a burgeoning view that people should be able to live ordinary lives in a supportive community, although there was also a view that people might be abandoned and neglected if they left hospital. However, the 1970’s saw more care homes being built where people could have an alternative to institutions.
In the 1980’s, Care in the Community began to emerge in much more realistic ways. Across the UK, radical new services were being launched and people were moving away from remote, closed and closeted hospitals into smaller and more ordinary community-based support, such as group homes and supported living .
A consequence of this was that my nurse training was based around community as well as hospital placements, in my view an invaluable experience. I learned in the hospital how lives could be squandered and devalued by understaffing, poor resources and a lack of enlightened support. I also learned how to work with the most profoundly complex people through wellness and illness, how to assist with therapy, work with behaviour management and learn about medications administration. I learned about skin care, chest physiotherapy, positioning, alternative communication, swallowing, talking therapies. I learned about advocacy, rights, rules and the law. I learned how to cheat at snooker.
In the community, I worked in cradle-to-grave services where I saw real potential. As a rookie, I would argue that some people would never leave hospital; they were too needy, too challenging. As a newly qualified staff nurse, I knew that with enlightened and competent support, anything was possible.
Now I may be biased, but I think I had the best possible training and experience to get me to where I am today. I was part of the movement to help people with learning disability achieve real lives, real freedoms and respect. When I read how we still need to move 2,500 people out of assessment and treatment units, I am both dismayed and relieved. Dismayed that we have come so far but still cannot rid ourselves of institutional care as a response to people who challenge. Relieved that there are only 2,500. In 1980 there were over 7,000 people in long stay hospital.
Writing this rambling blog over the last three years has reminded me of how many amazing people there are out there working to help achieve what all of us want for people with learning disability. If any of the subjects I have covered, any of the views I have shared or any of my long and varied experiences have helped you to do your job better, then all of these late nights at the laptop have been worthwhile.
Good luck and best wishes to everyone out there, pursuing the dream!
Ginny Tyler – QCS Learning Disability Expert Contributor