Learning Disability Nursing: never looked back – Tracey Helliwell

Tracey Helliwell, Registered Learning Disability Nurse and Clinical Continuing Health Care Team Leader for Learning Disabilities at Doncaster CCG explains why she loves being a Learning Disability nurse and why she’s never looked back.

Tracey Helliwell – Registered Learning Disability Nurse and CHC Clinical Team Leader, NHS Doncaster CCG

I started my fantastic career in nursing in July 1985 at Barnsley School of Nursing. Prior to this I was on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) where I had a placement at a ‘Mental Handicap’ unit situated in an acute hospital at Rotherham.

I’ve always had a passion and love for the care of people with learning disabilities and decided to complete my Registered Nurse for Mental Handicap (RNMH) in April 1989. At the time, the job market for learning disability nurses in 1992 was very limited so I returned to adult nursing and continued a long career in the acute hospital in Barnsley.

In 1997, I became a Registered General Nurse (RGN) and worked within the medical unit. I was fortunate to be able to use my qualifications 15 years from that point.

In 2012, I was overjoyed when Barnsley hospital were looking to recruit a Learning Disability Liaison Nurse. I applied and was ecstatic when I heard I was successful. Nursing has always been a passion of mine but securing this role meant that I could support individuals, families and carers in Barnsley with a learning disability and/or autism, as well as encouraging them to access hospital and community services.

During this time, I was able to forge strong working relationships with the local authority, community learning disability team and the local CCG as well as service users and family/carers. One of the biggest achievements was to educate the workforce of Barnsley hospital in relation to awareness of learning disabilities and/or autism. I was also supported to develop a training programme for learning disability champions who came from a wide range of staff groups including executive members.

I am passionate about the healthcare of those who need that extra support whilst attending hospital; whether that be a routine appointment or emergency admission to having planned surgery.

In 2016, I was approached about the role of Clinical CHC team leader for learning disabilities at Doncaster CCG. I was a little sceptical as in all my career I had worked in an acute hospital trust and didn’t have a great deal of knowledge of CHC. I took the plunge and was successful in gaining the post.

I won’t lie this wasn’t an easy transition for me. However, my passion and determination for individuals with a learning disability drove me and I soon began to realise that a third of the individuals who received some kind of CHC funding were adults with a learning disability.

With the support of my fantastic team at Doncaster CCG, we have developed the learning disability which has grown from strength to strength. We have four learning disability nurses, as well as learning disability support worker which we are currently recruiting to.

Over the last 18 months, the learning disability team at Doncaster CCG have worked tirelessly to ensure that CHC reviews are completed on time. Almost 100% of reviews are always completed on time which is an excellent achievement compared with 12 months ago where around 50% of views had been completed on time.

But what does this mean for individuals, families and carers? Quite simply, it means individual care needs are reviewed in a timely manner and appropriate support is in place; whether that be health or social care.

We have developed very strong working relationships with our local authority colleagues who have been instrumental in working with us to achieve this along with our community LD nurse colleagues.

As a team, we are also very lucky that we now also have learning disability nursing students from Sheffield Hallam University who are studying BSC (Honours) Nursing (Learning Disability) and Social Work. They are bringing different perspectives, energy and enthusiasm which is so invaluable to help ensure we provide the best care possible for individuals with a learning disability and/or autism.

I love my job and am proud to be able to make a difference and support my nurses to do the same. I’ve never looked back and wouldn’t change my career for the world.

Watch a short video below.

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