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“Nurses with learning difficulties should rely on their presence in primary care”

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Primary care is often the first line of health care that patients access; however, research suggests that opportunities in primary care are limited for student nurses, especially nurses with learning disabilities.

The primary care experience is a great opportunity to gain skills and, for students, provides a new perspective on career paths. I had the good fortune to experience a small side of primary care, doing health checkups led by student nurses through the nurses on tour road show hosted by Joanna Vintis, Nurse Practitioner and Nurse Liaison for the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group, and Helen Stainsby, Practice Placement Facilitator, Effective Learning Environments at Health Education England.

As a learning disabled nursing student, this opportunity gave me valuable insight into primary care. Highlighting the adaptability and diversity of the role of the nurse with learning disabilities, the Student Nursing Roadshow offers all areas of nursing the opportunity to attend and participate in patient check-ups .

Health checkups are an integral and vital part of preventive measures to promote the health and well-being of patients in primary care, they offer routine screening and can often detect signs of deterioration when a person is generally well . Examples include reporting elevated blood pressure readings or perhaps identifying increased alcohol consumption. Importantly, the skills learned during health checkups give nursing students increased confidence to ask potentially difficult questions and to develop and strengthen their clinical judgment and decision-making.

People with learning disabilities are four times more likely to die from preventable causes than the general population, and evidence suggests that NHS health checks often identify modifiable risk factors (such as the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease), referrals from disadvantaged groups are included in these results.

The information collected from the LeDeR Action from Learning Report 2020/2021 identifies ischemic heart disease as one of the leading preventable medical causes of death in adults with learning disabilities, accounting for 22% of all preventable deaths. NHS health checks are now designed to highlight and identify cardiovascular risk factors, with nurse practitioners able to offer specialist advice and make relevant referrals to improve wellbeing. Primary care nursing students are in a valuable position to learn from nurse practitioners, who have varied and diverse skills and specialist knowledge to meet the needs of their patients.

The Nursing Student Roadshow allowed me to reflect on my own practice, skills and development as a student. The coaching model adopted by the road show, with peer support at the forefront, gave me confidence in my skills and my ability to share knowledge with others. Encouragement from facilitators allows for the development of decision-making skills, which is an essential part of our nursing education. The opportunity for nursing students with learning disabilities to consider primary care was well received and greatly appreciated.

Nurses with learning disabilities should continue to build on their development and presence in primary care, not only to improve the health and well-being of people with learning disabilities, but also to continue and contribute to the NHS long-term plan.

Chloe Hawkins is a second-year learning disabled nursing student at Northumbria University and editor of The Nursing Times 2021-22