Specialist learning disability nurses now have permanent place in Suffolk GP surgeries after successful pilot

Jacquie Knott, deputy service manager for Acute Learning Disability Services with NSFT. Picture: NSF

Jacquie Knott, deputy service manager for Acute Learning Disability Services with NSFT. Picture: NSFT - Credit: NSFT

A year-long pilot which has seen mental health nurses working in Suffolk doctors’ surgeries to improve care for patients with learning disabilities has been permanently commissioned due to its success.

Barbara McLean, chief nursing officer for Suffolk CCGs. Picture: IPSWICH AND EAST SUFFOLK AND WEST S

Barbara McLean, chief nursing officer for Suffolk CCGs. Picture: IPSWICH AND EAST SUFFOLK AND WEST SUFFOLK CCGS - Credit: IPSWICH AND EAST SUFFOLK AND WEST SUFFOLK CCGS

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) now employs four nurses within primary care in the county to make sure people with additional needs and aged 14 and above receive an annual health check.

The nurses also provide training for doctors to encourage them to make reasonable adjustments in order to make it easier for these patients to attend appointments. This can include allowing extra time and making sure signage is clear.

Following its trial, NSFT’s Primary Learning Disability Nurse Service has been permanently funded by West Suffolk and Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG).

Statistics from the mental health trust show the number of patients on the learning disability register has increased by 13%, while the proportion of those who have had a health check rose by 37% in practices where the nurses work.

Tracey Stewart, learning disability liaison nurse at NSFT. Picture: NSFT

Tracey Stewart, learning disability liaison nurse at NSFT. Picture: NSFT - Credit: Archant


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The news comes during Learning Disability Week, which runs from June 19-25 and this year focuses on raising awareness of the benefits of employing people with a learning disability.

Jacquie Knott, deputy service manager for Acute Learning Disability Services with NSFT, said people with learning disabilities faced “considerable health inequalities”.

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She said: “Their health needs are not always identified, which can lead to them being at a higher risk of shorter life expectancy, admissions to acute hospitals, chronic health conditions and poorer physical and mental health than the general population.”

The annual health checks are vitally important, Ms Knott said, as they give GPs the chance pick up any undiagnosed conditions, while the NSFT nurses also increase understanding of learning disabilities for doctors.

Barbara McLean, chief nursing officer for the two CCGs, said: “The pilot project has highlighted the need for improving access to primary care services and making it easier to get a GP or nurse appointment, where health needs can be addressed.”

Commissioners are focusing on improving Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) provision, while overall spending on mental health services across east and west Suffolk will be increased to £111 million in 2017/18 compared to £103 million last year, Ms McLean added.

Nurse says no two days are the same in her new role

A mental health nurse who is working in primary care across east Suffolk to help people with learning disabilities as part of a new project has described her role as “rewarding”.

Tracey Stewart joined NSFT’s Primary Learning Disability Nurse Service in March 2016, having started at the trust in 1983 and qualifying as a learning disabilities nurse in 1986.

Ms Stewart works in around 10 doctors’ surgeries in the county to make sure people with learning disabilities receive an annual health check. She also trains GPs, police officers, practice nurses among other professionals to make sure patients with additional needs are given the right support.

“I really enjoy it as every day is different but is also so rewarding,” she said. “I may do something as simple as find a new service for an individual to access but if the family tells me that has made a difference it makes the job worth it.

“No two days are ever the same, but whenever I look at my diary, I know it’s going to be a good week.

“Some really good things have been happening in the care we provide for people with learning disabilities over the past two years and it really feels like we are really starting to make improvements.”

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