Robert Norton 4WEBThis week (15-21 June) is Learning Disability Week and the focus this year is the importance of friendships during lockdown.

Covid-19 has been a time of continuous concern and change for all of us, but Learning Disability Team staff across hospitals at Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust has been reaching out to carers and people with disabilities over the phone, to have a friendly chat to keep in touch and answer any concerns.

The specialist learning disability nurses offer a range of support mechanisms and reasonable adjustments for patients with learning disabilities, including access to easy read information on medical procedures, routine tests and screenings. They’ve also introduced a Covid grab sheet, helping provide simplified vital information for supporting this group of patients during the pandemic.

Each hospital site has its own learning disability nurse: Paula Pearl is at Southend, Dave Thompson is at Basildon and Sandie Morton Nance at Broomfield.

Speaking on behalf of the three hospital sites, is Paula Pearl, the Learning Disability Liaison Nurse Specialist for Southend Hospital.
She said: “It’s been a strange time for everyone but for patients with learning disabilities sometime they or their families have needed that little bit of extra reassurance or just some normality maintained in a world where it has been anything but. That is where some of our phone calls have come in.

“During the pandemic we have made contact with some of the patients, carers, care homes, supported living environments, community learning disability services including NHS community providers and social services to offer our support and ensure they all have our contact details if needed. These phone calls and contacts were well received. We have kept in regular contact with patients, wards and carers during admissions to relay any fears and support with reasonable adjustments.”

One of those learning disability patients who has been having weekly phone contact is Robert Norton, 34, from Leigh-on-Sea.
He said: “It’s been quite a difficult situation, I’ve been stuck indoors for 12 weeks, but have been in touch with Paula, the Learning Disability nurse on a weekly basis, it’s just been nice to chat and have a general catch up really. Covid-19 has been all over the TV and radio, there has been no real escape from it, so it has been nice to speak to Paula about normal stuff.”

Prior to lockdown Robert was very active in the community, raising money for the LD team through his raffles – he’s very proud of the £254.60 he has raised so far – and had been working in a café and volunteering in a charity shop. All that suddenly stopped, so the chats and interaction he’s been having with Paula has helped compensate for that important communication void left by Covid-19 cutting off his usual outlets. Robert’s also been enjoying some of the word searches he has been sent, even if he hasn’t completed the latest one yet.
Sarah Haines, Learning Disability Lead for the Trust, said: “Although people with a learning disability have had big changes to their usual routines, we hope that the calls and a friendly, familiar voice has helped make a real difference to people.”

The hard work and commitment of Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust staff hasn’t been lost on Robert. He said: “I want to say a big thank you to all of the nurses and all they are doing to help us. I know it may not be until next year now, but their continued help and support has made me more determined to raise even more money for the learning disability team.”