The 4th Annual Research Conference of the School of Nursing & Midwifery Studies

by Colin Griffiths


Trinity College Dublin, 5th, 6th and 7th November 2003. Conrad Hotel, Dublin
The relationship between nursing and the field of intellectual disability has always been a little uneasy. RMHNs (Mental Handicap nurses) have struggled to find a role that sits comfortably with contemporary approaches to care. When the RMHN course started in 1959 the focus of the nurse was unashamedly medical. Howeve, over the past twenty years the trend has been towards normalisation, social role valorisation and inclusion, suggesting that people with intellectual disability should be educated and supported in ordinary settings and should use generic services. This has led to question marks being raised as to whether there was a need for Registered Mental Handicap Nurses at all. Several reports in the UK (Sines 1989, Turnbull 1997) in the 1990s examined the role of the learning disability nurse, which was supported on each occasion.

In the United States, a recognition that nurses who specialise in the care of people with intellectual disability are a discrete professional grouping has only recently occurred; in 1997 the American Nurses Association acknowledged IDD (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) nurses as a specialty (Nehring 2003). In Ireland the Commission on Nursing (Government of Ireland 1998) concluded that the role of the RMHN should be strengthened. Part of the expression of that aspiration has been the creation of more student nurse places in the universities in 2002. In Ireland there still seems to be a demand for nurses in intellectual disability services despite the ambivalence in some quarters towards nursing.

It is in this context that the nursing school in Trinity College is offering its fourth annual nursing conference. This is a three-day conference, but the main proceedings on day two of the conference (Thursday, 6 November) will be dedicated to intellectual disability. Because this is a multidisciplinary conference, presenters will come from a wide variety of backgrounds, many working in practice in Ireland, along with some guest speakers from the UK.

Highlights in the varied proceedings will be:

  • Professor James Hogg, on health issues for people with profound intellectual disability.
  • Loretta Lambe, describing her work using personalised stories as educational media for children with severe intellectual disability.
  • Dr Mary McCarron, on understanding the day-to-day care needs of people with dementia and the associated costs with Down Syndrome.
  • Professor Phil McCallion, on staff caregivers’ views of working with people with dementia and intellectual disability.
  • Professor Patricia Noonan Walsh will offer her thoughts influences on the health of older women with intellectual disabilities.

The Thursday of the conference will be open to all (at €140, including lunch; student rate, €105). Details are to be found at

This one day of the conference will attempt to engineer a meaningful dialogue between nurses in practice and education, professionals who work with people with an intellectual disability and parents and friends of people with disability.


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