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06th February 2014

That Awkward Moment………….

GrimaceA story from the archives

As a young and keen community nurse, one of my favourite jobs was assisting people with learning disability to cope with independent living in the community. Bearing in mind this was the mid-1980s and we were still closing institutions, the chance to help someone stay in their own home after the death of an elderly parent was a real opportunity. Derek was a man in his fifties with a learning disability who had lived with his mother in a council flat. However, when Mum died, placing him in a group home was seriously considered. The nursing team I worked in fought this tooth and nail, as we felt that Derek could manage to live independently with help and worried that a move on top of his bereavement would be too difficult for him.


One of our regular efforts to help demonstrate his independence skills was to accompany Derek to the supermarket. Derek would write a list of the things he needed, copied from the labels in the house (he was pretty good at copying although could not read – strangely!) For objects not labelled he would draw a picture. This made for an entertaining shop, as some of the pictures bore only a vague resemblance to the actual item; I recall a purchase of a toothbrush that should have been a mousetrap………..

So there I am with Derek in the aisles of the supermarket, perusing and deciphering the list with mixed results, when I noted the last item. In block capitals, the words ‘MEN ONLY’ were neatly printed. Ah. I blushed a little, and quickly considered how I was going to brave out the purchase of what I imagined was a ‘lad mag’ in a very busy shop, without embarrassing either Derek or myself. As we approached the last aisle, Derek asked what was left on the list. I gulped and held out the paper – “just your magazine, I think” I offered. Derek looked blankly back at me, then at the list, then again at me. I was by this time a deep crimson.

The earth can swallow me up anytime…

After what felt like an age, I asked Derek to show me where the magazines were, so that we could finish the shopping. He looked at me in puzzlement, then took my arm and led me to the aisle where the toiletries were, and placed a can of deodorant into the trolley. I looked down at the item. Men Only, it read. An amusing tale that serves to let me point out a really useful resource for those of you who, like me, can get a bit squirmy when it comes to talking about, ahem, you know, sex and things.

The really rather sensible Family Planning Association have an excellent website with lots of information for people with learning disabilities, their families and carers, on how to tackle the often awkward topics of sexual health, relationships, contraception and so on. Find the answers at  and don’t be a total numpty.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Ginny Tyler

Learning Disabilities Specialist

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