Guy’s programme to encourage people with learning difficulties to get vaccine

Kit Heren (12 August, 2021)

People who have learning difficulties are sadly much more likely to die from a Covid-19 related illness than others.

46976James Beveridge and student nurse Kayode Aderinwale

Nurses from Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals are helping people with learning difficulties get the Covid-19 vaccine.

People who have learning difficulties are sadly much more likely to die from a Covid-19 related illness than others. One study showed that some 24 per cent of all deaths of people with learning difficulties last year were related to coronavirus.

This makes it all the more important for people with learning difficulties to be vaccinated, to protect them and their families. But the anxiety than can be brought on by these conditions can make it difficult for people to get the jab.

James Beveridge, 55, from Brockley in south-east London, has a mild learning disability and was supported to get his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in June 2021, by Guy’s and St Thomas’ specialist learning disabilities nurse Lee Moore and student nurse Kayode Aderinwale from London Southbank University.

Lee and Kayode met James at home and gave him accessible information about the team and the vaccination process. They taught James how to inflate a blood pressure cuff comfortably and safely to help people to relax.

James said: “I felt very nervous, I don’t like needles. It was good to have someone to talk to about the vaccine.”

“Lee told me it does work and showed me a picture of people getting the jab. We used a blood pressure pump (inflating and deflating it) to relax me before taking the jab.”

Lee helped James to repeat the process several times, up until the date of the vaccination. Once inside Lewisham Hospital, James, who was with his aunt, used the technique immediately before taking the vaccine.

“I watched a video of the FA cup final and within 5 minutes the needle was in,” he said. “I’ve had no problems since.”

James says he is confident that he will be able to receive his second dose of the vaccine in August with Lee and Kayode’s support and without being sedated.

Lee said: “What we’ve found is that a lot of people who develop phobias around having jabs do so because of distressing childhood experiences [around needles]. By getting our methods right people like James will be more likely to come back for their second dose with a lower degree of anxiety than before.”

The team of nurses and therapists from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Adults with Learning Disabilities service support GPs to carry out home vaccinations and encourage people with learning disabilities to attend vaccination hubs. The team, who cover Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham, also carried out virtual ‘welfare’ checks for more than 150 people during the first and second waves of the pandemic to support people in their own homes.

Lee said: “We were calling some of our most vulnerable people every day, who are living alone and with no other family members to support them, to avoid a crisis.”

“Suddenly the rules that we’ve lived by, and we applied day to day had changed. For some people with learning disabilities this change can be even more challenging. For example, they may find communication more difficult to understand. We use video calls to meet and help familiarise people with what we look like without personal protective equipment.”

“It’s all about making reasonable adjustments to empower people with learning disabilities so they are able to receive the vaccines.”
If you would like to find out more about support for people with learning disabilities and the vaccination programme, contact 020 3989 0550 or email: gst-tr.AWLDHTeam@nhs.net

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