Source: Eathorne, V. (2003). “Rewards on the Wards.” Disability Now Archive.
At the age of nine, Victoria Eathorne was involved in a car accident that left her in a coma. When she regained consciousness, she had to learn how to walk and use her memory again. Her experiences in rehabilitation convinced her to work in the care industry. After two years as a care assistant, she started training as a nurse.
While I was training, I had to work harder than the other nurses because of my poor memory. I worked full time on the wards at the Royal Cornwall Hospital NHS Trust while studying as well. It was difficult: in a stressful environment, my responses are not as quick as other nurses. But I was determined to succeed and after three years training, I passed my exams first time to qualify as a registered nurse in 1990. After I qualified, I worked on a variety of different wards at the Royal Cornwall, but the pace of the profession was increasing and so the demands on nurses were increasing too. You are often expected to be able to do ten things at once as a nurse and that was really difficult for me.
I worked in a busy ward environment for ten years and was perhaps a bit slower than the other nurses, and I did find it stressful. I had to work harder to make up for it but maybe sometimes I couldn’t always think of ten things at once. The Trust tried to help me by putting me in different wards to try to find a niche in which I felt comfortable, but it became increasingly difficult to cope. I was fortunate, though, to be able to obtain professional advice and support from Sue Matthews, the south-west regional officer for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). She helped me by attending meetings with me and arguing my case. Then three years ago, in February 2000, Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust (formerly the Royal Cornwall) decided to appoint me to the post of disability adviser.
Here, my role is to improve services for disabled people. We are now a mental health and learning disability trust so we often deal with patients with a double disadvantage. Some have multiple disabilities. Even though I no longer work on the wards, I am still a registered nurse and the nursing knowledge and skills I gained are invaluable.
I am currently working on producing a strategy for the trust to address the needs of patients who are disabled and who access our services. I have also had 13 articles published on disability issues and developed a strategy on how the trust should respond to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
Another one of my roles is as a learning representative for the RCN. A colleague and I have produced a workbook on the DDA and how the union should deal with disabled nurses. This workbook is being rolled out across the UK and I will also be delivering the workshop for RCN representatives that will support the workbook.
There are a lot of disabled nurses in the NHS. Some have arthritis; some have back problems; many of them have been injured at work. The RCN has a Work Injured Nurses Group and that can be very useful in offering advice and support. With the right support, disabled nurses can succeed in the NHS.
I think it is a question of educating managers to look at nurses’ abilities. A nurse’s skills are extremely valuable and it is such a loss to the NHS if they have to leave the profession. But the support available to disabled nurses improves all the time, it is ten times better than it was a decade ago. Having said that, there is still much work to be done to ensure they are given the support they need to do their job.