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Volunteering for wellbeing

02 June, 2016

Front: Colleen Hemsworth and Sue Morland, back: Suzanne Nichols and Graham North

Graham North and Colleen Hemsworth are volunteers with City Health Care Partnership CIC’s Wellbeing Service, which works with GP practices to reduce the health inequalities experienced by people who have a learning disability. The service is led by nurse Suzanne Nichols, who says that having Graham and Colleen on the team to help train staff at practices has made a massive difference.

 “We would like all practices in Hull to offer the learning disability health check but not all of them are signed up to do it, so we need to explain what we do and how we can support them to carry out health checks.

“Colleen and Graham both have learning disabilities themselves and it’s so much more powerful when they can tell staff at practices about their experiences, what it’s like for someone with a learning disability to access services and what the health check should cover.”

“We’ve just been to a doctor’s surgery and they said it was the best training ever,” said Graham. “We talked about cataracts, going to the dentist and blood pressure. I have a health action plan but before I got it, I didn’t have any teeth for 10 years and I had cataracts. I talk to the doctors about health action plans and how they can help people; you need to step into someone’s shoes and think about what’s best for them.”

“I like doing the work and training,” said Colleen. When she started work as a volunteer, it was the first day she’d ever worked and she was very excited. “I picked Colleen up at 8.30am and she’d been up at five getting ready,” said Suzanne. “She’s become so much more confident. She used to be frightened of talking but now she likes to have the opportunity to tell doctors and nurses what it’s like to be a patient.”

Graham says that volunteering has given him a purpose to get out of bed and do something. “I think I’ve made the right choice. If I can help people, I will and I’m doing that already.”

Graham and Colleen have helped to develop the Wellbeing health check booklet and thousands of these have now been distributed to Hull GP practices and to partners including Mencap and CASE who were involved in its production. The Wellbeing service and Mencap self-advocacy group also got a grant from NHS England to produce a film showing the process of engaging with people who have a learning disability; this has been showcased nationally by NHS England and is used in training and at conferences.

“One of the practices we went to were so impressed with the stories Graham and Colleen told that they’ve asked us to go back more times so all their admin staff can have the same training,” said Suzanne. “Graham and Colleen have both spoken about their work with GPs at regional conferences in front of over 100 and they were brilliant. We’ve had national, regional and local recognition for our work, including a section in the Oxford Handbook of Learning Disability Nursing.

“I absolutely love working with Graham and Colleen. When they tell their stories, it gives so much more quality to the message and makes it stronger and unforgettable.”