The identity of the learning disability nurse is intertwined with the past, the present and the future. Identity appears to be formed way before the individual begins their training when they first consider learning disability nursing – what it means to them and how they construct learning disability. Society and the ‘family’ of nursing also play their part in creating an identity. During the early days of the NHS when many newly named nurses were working in Victorian institutions the nurses identity had been linked to keeping people safe and secure and away from society. Maybe more in common with those who worked in prison settings?
As the NHS developed and grew the learning disability nurse in the NHS setting worked within a medical model of disability, a career structure within nursing was clear and specific ‘skills’ could be identified. Maybe a clear identity as a nurse?
Although learning disability nurses at this time may have been clear about their role and identity the ‘family’ of nursing was less and less sure of the position of learning disability. In the 1960’s and 70’s as philosophies of normalisation were accepted and damning reports into conditions in some institutions hit the headlines the questioning of the medical model threatened the identity of the learning disability nurse. The Jay report was key to this questioning process. Stepping forward a couple of decades and the embedding of the Community Care Act many people with learning disabilities had left the institutions and the medical model behind them to live ‘normalised’ lives. Learning disability nurses followed them, adapting their skills and learning new skills to support people with learning disabilities in different settings outside of the NHS.
In the gap between Jay and Valuing People learning disability nurses created new roles in order to continue to support people with learning disabilities; the Community Nurse (LD), specialist nurses (epilepsy is one example), nurse behaviourists, crisis intervention nurses, outreach and the acute liaison nurse. Many of these roles required nurse to think differently about their work and their perception of people with a learning disability. To create a new identity?
If learning disability is socially constructed then so too are the nurses who work with people with a learning disability and learning disability nurses over the past 30 years have been part of a changing identity and it hasn’t always been clear even to ourselves whether this identity is that of a ‘nurse’.