If your nurse had dementia – would you trust them to treat you?

The UK union representing nurses have shown their support and said that nurses with dementia should be allowed to continue treating patients for as long as they are able to.  

This controversial decision was undertaken in a vote at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual Congress in Liverpool.

Critics say that allowing nurses to continue practising after their diagnosis puts patients at risk, especially if they administer the wrong medication or become confused or aggressive.

Joanna James, of the Royal College of Nursing’s Older People’s Forum, was the nurse who proposed the idea and has argued that reasonable adjustments could be made to the job for colleagues with dementia.

For example, these nurses could be put into roles that involve less technical work, they could even be utilised to help teach others how to provide better dementia care.

By supporting nurses with dementia to keep working, this action would set an example to society that people with dementia should not be discriminated against.

At the conference Ms James said, “in nursing, dementia is likely to signal the end of someone’s professional life. I believe we should see dementia as a special case.”

“In a single moment they will go from nurse to patient, regardless of the severity of their dementia or how it’s affecting them.”

“Few employers would consider that a person with dementia could be a productive member of their team.”

“We should be embracing nurses with dementia and making it possible for them to continue delivering excellent patient care in spite of their disability.”

In the UK, as well as Australia, there are no guidelines for nurses with dementia regarding whether or not they are allowed to work.

However, The Nursing and Midwifery Council states that it is expected that all nurses should be able to deliver “safe and effective practice” and put the safety of their patient’s above all else.

Despite that, there are fears that nurses would be pressured to leave if they disclosed that they had the condition.

Dementia symptoms are complex and can vary from person to person. However, common symptoms include memory loss, confusion, personality change, apathy and withdrawal, loss of ability to perform everyday tasks.

Mary Codling, a nurse from Berkshire whose father had dementia said, “you cannot generalise with dementia. What affects one person at one point at their life will be very different from someone else.”

“My father had dementia. To the outside world, he looked quite normal and carried on with his day-to-day life. But he was actually driving up and down one-way streets.”

Thus raising the question – how can one ensuring that that person is delivering safe practice to patients?

The head of the Royal College of Nursing, Janet Davies said that though she was “pleased” with the decision to support nurses, patient safety is a priority too.

“Just because someone has a mental or physical impairment, it doesn’t mean they’re dangerous.

“The requirement for reasonable adjustments means you assess that person so they’re not putting anyone in danger.

“If they didn’t have the capacity, they wouldn’t be making critical decisions or calculations.”

If given the right support, nurses with dementia can still make a meaningful contribution to their field and to their patients.

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