Gerard Wins Learning Disability Nurse of the Year

We are so proud to see our Heatherstones Service manager, Gerard Wainwright win the Learning Disability category of the RCN Nursing Awards (Royal College of Nusing).

Gerard led the Unsafe Swallow Project to address the disproportionately high number of people with learning disabilities who die because of aspiration pneumonia caused by swallowing difficulties.

Inspired by a former patient with cerebral palsy who almost died of aspiration pneumonia in 2015, Gerard was determined to raise awareness of the health inequalities caused by unsafe swallowing.

Gerard said: ‘I’ve been aware of and concerned about dysphagia and aspiration risk for people with learning disabilities for many years and have nursed numerous people who have died because of aspiration pneumonia,’ he said. ‘These are people I’ve developed close relationships with and cared about, people whose families I’ve got to know, people whose health and well-being I am deeply invested in.’

The project, which was launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, initially provided webinar-based training to non-nursing services supporting people with learning disabilities at risk of unsafe swallowing. Free video learning resources were developed that have now been used by hundreds of people globally.

Services have reported greater knowledge of and confidence in identifying unsafe swallowing, as well as better awareness of referral pathways, following the training. Many say they have seen a reduction in aspiration-related chest infections. Those with more complex clients report reduced hospital admissions as a result of using techniques such as postural drainage, positioning at mealtimes and recording vital signs.

Gerard said it was ‘amazing’ to win the award. ‘Having the opportunity to try to ensure that in future risks are reduced and unnecessary deaths do not occur is something that’s important to me,’ he said. ‘Winning this award will hopefully provide a platform to share that message more widely, make a greater difference and reach a wider audience.’

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