Nurse consultant Helen Percival joined Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) as a nursing assistant in 1996.
She began her career working with people with a learning disability and physical health conditions before the Trust supported her to do her nurse training.
After qualifying, Helen worked with adults with autism making her way from a staff nurse to clinical team lead, ward manager and specialist nurse before becoming a consultant.
Helen found her passion for caring while volunteering in her school’s special needs department. “That passion to develop caring practice has never left. I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said.
Helen is based in inpatient autism services and also supports with two clinic sessions a week with CNTW’s Northumberland Learning Disability Community Treatment Team.
As a nurse consultant, she is responsible for the clinical leadership and development of the nursing team. Her role involves research, looking after a clinical case load and training and education. She is also the lead for CNTW’s Advanced Clinical Practitioner apprenticeship and Co-Chair of the Trust’s learning disability and autism clinical network.
Helen says she has learnt a lot throughout her career. “The most important thing is to listen to the patient. Whatever way they try to communicate, listen to them as they’re at the heart of everything we do.”
During her time at the Trust, Helen has had a number of opportunities to progress and develop her skills. She said: “There are significantly more opportunities in learning disability services currently. The Trust has really opened up the opportunity to progress in clinical roles which is amazing.”
Helen’s advice to anyone thinking of a career in learning disability nursing is to “just do it!”
“If you have a passion to make a difference, it’s the career for you. You have to have patience and there are times that are challenging, but there is also some of the most rewarding and best moments ever.”
Being able to make a difference is the best part of the job for Helen.
“People are coming into our service at the most difficult part in their lives. Being able to support them back into the community is just lovely. It really is a whole team effort and knowing you’ve been part of making a difference to someone’s life is so rewarding.”
A moment which stands out is meeting a man who had lived in a seclusion room for three years. “We supported him into a service where we were able to adapt to his needs and then support him to move into his own home.
“Previously no one had been able to build a relationship with him, but he said all he wanted was to be able to go to the beach for an ice cream. We listened to what was important to him and supported him to achieve that. Moments like those are what make it all worthwhile.”