Royal College of Nursing Awards logo
Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust’s School Nursing Special Needs Team are finalists in the Royal College of Nursing Institute Nurse Awards 2020

Innovative work to support children in Bradford and Keighley who have autism and/or learning disabilities to receive vital immunisations, even during the pandemic, has led to a local nursing team being shortlisted for a prestigious national award.

The School Nursing Special Needs Team at Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust is a finalist in the Child Health category of the Royal College of Nursing Institute Nurse Awards 2020, and in with a chance of winning the coveted RCN Nurse of the Year title.

The team will find out if it has won its category at a virtual event at 6pm on Monday 5 October. If it does, the team will then be in the final for RCN Nurse of the Year 2020 to be announced at the event finale on Thursday 8 October.

Uptake of vaccinations among children with autism and learning disabilities in Bradford and Keighley was low, due to the high levels of fear and anxiety, and/or the sensory issues associated with autism.

Immunisation Preparation Programme information
Story-based materials help children and young people with complex health and behavioural needs to learn about having an injection or nasal spray

The School Nursing Special Needs team introduced their ground-breaking Immunisation Preparation Programme into 10 special schools to make the process safer and less distressing, and to ensure more children could accept vaccinations.

Whether an injection or a nasal spray is required, children and young people learn a simple step-by-step preparation process which helps to increase their understanding and reduce their stress and fear. A five step ‘mantra’ accompanied by symbols and storyboard strips, explains the process of having a vaccination, with a needleless syringe used to demonstrate the injection where required.

Learning the routine over a number of weeks helps to increase children’s understanding of what is happening and why, so their stress and fear is reduced. Once they are familiar with it, they may not even need each of the stages.

All preparation work and vaccinations are delivered in the school by a familiar school nurse with the child’s support worker. Parents and carers are also trained in desensitisation techniques.

Since introducing the Immunisation Preparation Programme far more children have been able to be vaccinated and the process has proved to be safer and less distressing for all concerned. In fact, the initiative has proved so successful, it is now being developed into a package to support practitioners across the country.

Ann Andrews, Principal at  High Park school in Bradford, where students received weekly immunisation desensitisation support, commented:  “We have seen a significant increase in the number of successful immunisations and also a much more positive response from pupils and parents who have been thrilled at the outcome. As a consequence, our pupils have greater resilience, flexibility and opportunity to remain healthy both physically and mentally throughout their lives.”

Janet Robertshaw, Clinical Lead Practitioner in the School Nursing Special Needs Team
Janet Robertshaw, a Clinical Lead Practitioner in the School Nursing Special Needs Team, helped to develop the Immunisation Preparation Programme

Janet Robertshaw, a Clinical Lead Practitioner in the School Nursing Special Needs Team, says: “It’s particularly gratifying when parents and carers tell us that children who have experienced the desensitisation work have not only been successfully immunized, but have been able to go on to accept blood tests during their Annual Health Checks.

“This is really important as, even under normal circumstances, children with learning disabilities are significantly less likely to access preventative health interventions, health prevention and health promotion activities. COVID-19 has made it additionally challenging as our young people and their families have had their lives turned upside down by the pandemic, being unable to attend school or receive many support services.

“We are so proud to have developed this intervention and to have been able to continue to offer our young people their immunisations throughout the pandemic, in school settings and in additional clinics in health centres. We’re also honoured and delighted to be shortlisted for the RCN award in this extraordinary and special year for nursing.”

Michelle Smith, the Trust’s interim General Manager for Adult and Children’s Physical Health Care Group, added: “We are immensely proud of the team for their innovation and creative problem solving in responding to an important, and often overlooked, need in some of our children and young people.

“As a paediatric nurse, I know the impact that a fear of needles can have on accessing care and treatment, not just throughout childhood but into adulthood too, and this is a simple yet effective tool that is already making a real difference, with the potential to be expanded further.

“Impressively, the team hasn’t just developed an alternative method of care delivery, but they have worked together to develop the resource materials, standardise their practice and fully embed a new way of working, ensuring consistency and reliability for children, young people and their families and carers.”