Meet the students signed up for Sunderland University's first Learning Disability Nursing Practice degree

A student has pledged to “make a difference” to the lives of people with learning disabilities as part of a new degree at Sunderland University.

By Debra Fox
Wednesday, 19 June, 2019, 16:55
Nicola Tracey (front left) and Sharon Brown (front right), Learning Disability Nursing students at Sunderland University with programme leader Ruth Wilson (back left) and senior lecturer Glenn Batey (back right) with Ashley Murphy from Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and Linda Reiling, Commissioning Manager at Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group join Kim Plummer, Nathan Holt and Dawn Mossman. Picture: David Wood.

Nicola Tracey was one of the first students to sign up to a new Learning Disability Nursing Practice degree, launched last September.

Studies show people with learning disabilities have a significantly lower life expectancy than the general population and are at higher risk of certain diseases including diabetes, hearing loss, cardiovascular disease and obesity.

Learning Disability Nursing student, Nicola Tracey. Picture: David Wood.

There is a shortage nationally of skilled professionals dedicated to improving the health and prospects of people with learning disabilities.

One hundred years of the profession is being celebrated nationally this week.

Nicola, 39, previously worked as a teaching assistant supporting children with special educational needs.

She said: “Hopefully we can shine a spotlight on our skills and valued work we’re doing through this celebration anniversary event.

Learning Disability Nursing student, Sharon Brown. Picture: David Wood.

“I love what I’m doing and work with an amazing group of people.”

Sunderland University hopes to turn the tide with its new degree, training an army of nurses dedicated to those with learning disabilities, removing the barriers and understanding of their symptoms and recognised anxieties about health interventions.

The degree is supported by Sunderland’s Clinical Commissioning Group and has been developed in collaboration with Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and Tees, Esk and Wear Valley Foundation Trust.

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Ruth Wilson first qualified as a learning disability nurse in 1990 and spent 19 years working with the Learning Disability NHS Service in a variety of roles.

She trains the next generation of learning disability nurses as Programme Leader at Sunderland University.

Work to promote learning disability nursing since the degree’s launch has been highlighted at workshops in the city.

The University was also involved in a North East study, recommending the health prospects of people with learning disabilities could be improved if more use was made of medical testing technology which is carried out close to where the patient is receiving care.

Ruth said: “Celebrating 100 years of learning disability nursing is a great opportunity to continue to raise awareness of the profession and highlight our achievements over the last year.

“The opportunities for learning disability nurses is vast with various specialist roles and this continues to increase, so much progress has been made since I qualified.

“However, there is an ever greater demand for their skills, yet a reduction in courses nationally in this area.

“We aim to change this as we need nurses who fully understand this community and can communicate properly with them.”

First-year learning disability nurse Sharon Brown, 49, from Bishop Auckland, knew this was the career for her after completing a Foundation Degree in Health and Social Care, she knew this was the career for her,

She added: “We need to bang the drum for all those working in this area and encourage others to come into it.

“It’s incredibly rewarding. I left a full-time job to come and do this which was a big step but definitely have no regrets.”