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James Paget nurse wins prestigious national award

13 October 2021

A James Paget nurse’s work to make sure vulnerable people with a learning disability are able to have their Covid vaccinations has won a prestigious UK award.

Rebecca Crossley last night won the Learning Disability Nursing category of the RCN Nursing Awards 2021.

The profession’s top accolade for nursing excellence attracted more than 550 entries this year.

People with learning disabilities and autism are six times more likely to die from Covid compared with the general population – not only because of comorbidities but also due to sensory needs or anxiety associated with hospitals and masks, for example.

While learning disability nurse Ms Crossley was getting her vaccination, she quickly realised it would be a difficult experience for people with anxiety or sensory needs.

“Starting an accessible COVID-19 vaccine clinic for people with learning disabilities and autism along with those with severe and enduring mental health conditions, was an essential thing to do,” says Ms Crossley. 

“I organised engagement events with people who would be using the service to ensure we got it right from the beginning, as people need to return for their second dose. 

“This resulted in the pathway being truly co-produced with the families who would be using it, adopting ‘nothing about me without me’ and ‘you said we did’ methodology.”

She sourced a room she could tailor for people’s sensory needs. “I also sourced person-specific materials, for example, toy tractors for a young man who loves tractors,” she says. “Promoting the clinic was critical as was sourcing a prescriber, as some people required individual patient assessment.”

The service has vaccinated hundreds of people, some with severe needle phobias who previously had never had a vaccination. It has a 99.9% success rate.

Ms Crossley is delighted to have won an RCN Nursing Award. “It’s such a great opportunity to keep people with a learning disability and/or autism in the spotlight,” she says.   

“I feel very proud of myself, the teams I work with and of the hospital as a whole.  Without the trust’s open-minded approach the clinic would not have happened. Not all people have access to a clinic like this – we have had enquiries from as far away as Wales, London and Cornwall.”

Joanne Bosanquet, chief executive of the Foundation for Nursing Studies, chaired the RCN Nursing Awards judging panel. She says: “Rebecca is a very special individual. Not only did Rebecca address the pandemic head on by increasing access to vaccinations amongst her client group, but also included their families and carers.

“She achieved a 99.9% uptake, which is almost unheard of. Rebecca also supported clients to be vaccinated who hadn’t been able to for over 10 years. Rebecca is highly inclusive and deliberately focuses on those who are historically under-served. Thank you from all of us.”

James Paget University Hospital director of nursing and patient safety Paul Morris says: “Rebecca was the driving force behind our accessible vaccination clinic, making the case for what we should provide, and how we should provide it, and working with colleagues to make it happen.

“This was a textbook example of making reasonable adjustments to ensure we could provide vaccinations in such a way that would make it easier for those with learning disabilities and autism. Rebecca’s flexible approach took into account the needs of each individual.

“She and the team carried out a lot of preparatory work before the individual arrived to see what would work best, and then vaccinated in a quieter environment or, in some cases, while individuals were in a familiar vehicle, adopting distraction techniques as appropriate and providing a caring and responsive service.

“We are delighted her efforts have been recognised through this award.”

 Rebecca Crossley, wearing a navy top and pale grey cardigan, sits holding a syringe over a grey tray in our accessible vaccination clinic area. The background is a pale orange wall and brighter orange draws. Colourful packets of sweets and small toys sit on the top of the drawer unit behind.