Patricia Handley, lead learning disabilities nurse is one of our Barts Health inspiring women. Nominated by her peers, Tricia is described as ‘driven and passionate’ with an ‘invaluable insight into our most vulnerable patients’. Here is her story.
Tricia has always specialised in caring for patients with learning disabilities, she said “I became a learning disabilities nurse as I didn’t like blood, and I can be a little squeamish. During my sixth form placement in a hospital I discovered a course for learning disability nursing. That’s where my career path started.”
From community to acute, Patricia has spent the majority of her nursing life working in Tower Hamlets across a variety of roles including; research, project managing an initiative to move learning disability patients out of long stay hospitals and training. During her time as a research nurse, Tricia focussed on understanding common health problems that those with learning disabilities face. She used findings to improve patient experience by opening a dedicated hearing and sight clinic in Tower Hamlets, which still runs to this day:
“I’ll always remember an elderly man who couldn’t hear anything because of the huge amount of wax in his ears; this severely affected his communication skills. Clearing his ears at the clinic made such a difference to his quality of life!” she added, “I am very proud of this service, as it is a huge help to our patients.”
When asked what she is most proud of at Barts Health, Tricia said “raising the profile of family carers, as we rely on them so much when forming relationships with patients.”
To do this, Tricia and the team created a carers policy with family carers:
“Partnership working with this group is critical to giving good patient care” Tricia explained, “Carers are now able to freely visit the wards, and they have improved our understanding of what good patient care is.”
Tricia has also been especially helpful in improving the phlebotomy experience for paediatric patients at Whipps Cross Hospital:
“Obtaining bloods from a child who is autistic can be very problematic. If handled incorrectly the experience can leave the child traumatised, which can cause further issues later on in their lives.
“From the outset, what is needed is to understand the reasonable adjustments required to improve the child’s experience”, Tricia explained.
“Now, we do an assessment visit with a child before bloods are taken, and create a care plan with parents. One lady was so overwhelmed with the difference that this approach made; she gave me a huge hug and burst in to tears.”
To work patients with learning difficulties you need to have “strong values about equality and what you think is fair”, Tricia explains. “At times you have to act as an advocate, which can be quite challenging. You are fighting the corner of a misunderstood group, and it is important for me not to judge but to educate others.”
Meeting parents and carers motivates Tricia to do more for her patients:
“Carers are the most life-affirming people I have ever met; they have many daily changes yet are so positive. If I can use my knowledge and their experience to make a difference, that’s all that matters.”
Tricia also adds:
“Caring for my learning disability patients is a great leveller; they see you as a human being without stereotype or pre-judgement. Your relationship with them is based on human values not seniority, ethnicity or gender.”
Finally, when asked what differences she would like to see in the next 10 years, Tricia focussed on environmental change and for the equality journey to continue worldwide:
“If we want future generations to enjoy this planet, we need to look after it more! There are also lots of places in the world where women are far less equal than men; we need to make greater strides in these countries.”