Julie Fitzpatrick is a Professional Nurse Advisor in Learning Disability Services with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, in her blog she reflects on the weight of her role as a nurse leader. During the pandemic, the pressure to make the right choices could easily have been overwhelming but Julie describes how important it was to confront these changes using positivity and professionalism for the benefit of her patients.
So here we are in Scotland easing our way out of lockdown and trying to imagine what our new normal will eventually look like. Together we are taking our tentative first steps toward the future. For those like me working in learning disability services, as for all those in health and social care services, the emergence of COVID-19 turned everything we knew as normal on its head. I for one felt like I was facing the unknown. I was constantly trying to keep pace with all the latest challenges and unexpected demands we faced almost daily. Everything had to be done as quickly as possible, as anything to keep patients and staff safe was of the utmost priority – and time was of the essence. Decisions that might have taken months to sign-off were now being made in less than a day in many instances. I must admit that I faced real anxiety as a nurse leader. It was my job to anticipate all the support the learning disability nurses and staff needed as well as responding to many varied questions regarding operational matters. I had to make sure I understood all the new guidance as it was published and then have this communicated to staff as quickly and effectively as required. Thankfully, things seem a little calmer now however patient priority remains at the forefront of our decision making today, especially as we look to develop recovery plans.
Despite the added challenge and immense busyness, I am not a nurse on the “frontline”. I worried about the worth of my contribution and at times even felt my role was less valuable, but this feeling did not last. I knew that those people with a learning disability were one of the most vulnerable groups during this time and their needs whether in the community or within hospitals would need extra attention. I thought to myself, who better to do this than a learning disability nurse.
Every day we have heard stories of difficulty and some very sad tales of deaths due to COVID but we have also heard stories of inspiration and the amazing things ordinary people have been achieving in extraordinary ways.
A recent survey of people with learning disabilities and their carers showed significant concerns related to the lockdown. They worried about a possible reduction in care or worse, this stopping altogether. They worried about being cut off from others because of a lack of IT equipment or digital knowledge. Another concern was that many people with a learning disability do not understand social distancing and as a result, some families have opted not to venture out of their homes at all in order to mitigate the risks around social distancing in public.
These and other issues have taken a toll on people’s mental health. We also know that people with a learning disability can be subject to discrimination and inequality, so we need to continue to rise to the challenge by supporting people with learning disabilities living in the community. We must make sure they know where to get the right help at the right time. Our specialist inpatient units have also been rising to the challenge and have been working tirelessly to keep patients safe and wards free from COVID. This has taken an enormous and on-going effort by skilled staff. All this makes me feel very proud of our learning disability staff. As a lead nurse, I support my local learning disability nursing workforce and I do this with joy and a sense of privilege. Today positive nursing leadership is needed even more to help get through these trying times.
Every day we have heard stories of difficulty and some very sad tales of deaths due to COVID but we have also heard stories of inspiration and the amazing things ordinary people have been achieving in extraordinary ways. Every Thursday for 10 weeks I had been out for the ‘clap for carers’ and clapping as loudly and proudly as I could for all the frontline staff and for all my amazing colleagues in learning disability services. It has been so good to see nursing as a profession being elevated to its rightful high standing in society. For me, I believe that we nurses must walk tall and be proud of our every contribution. No matter where we work and regardless of the specific roles we all have, we all must support our patients and each other. Never has compassion and kindness been more needed.
I am a proud learning disability nurse who wants compassion and kindness to lead the way, so we can all benefit.