International Nurses Day: A voice to lead

Nurses are the backbone to our society, providing invaluable care and support to people both in and out of hospital. On International Nurses Day (12 May), we speak with learning disability nurse and academic, Helen Laverty MBE.

The path into nursing is different for everyone. Learning disability nurses are a vital, working to improve health and quality of life of people with learning disabilities.

For Helen Laverty MBE, professional lead for learning disability nursing in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham, her career in nursing started in 1979 – after a volunteering placement inspired Helen.

During her time volunteering at a school for children, this sparked a desire in Helen to know more and make a difference, starting Helen on the path to become a learning disability nurse.

“People with learning disabilities are everywhere, so we need to make sure that every nurse knows about them,” emphasises Helen.

High ambitions

Throughout her career, Helen has supported and advocated for people with a learning disability. Opening the first learning disability home based in Lincolnshire, creating the Positive Choices Network for people looking to get into learning disability nursing, to academia where Helen now supports future nurses: Helen is a powerhouse working for inclusion.

“Sometimes I’m just there to open doors for people. I am a professional interferer,” Helen laughs. Facilitating a trip for people with Down’s syndrometo visit and speak at the United Nations in Geneva, Helen was on hand to help spotlight the potential, talent and skills people with a learning disability can provide in society.

One such example of a career highlight that stands out for Helen is with her friend Harley, who has Down’s syndrome and attended the Geneva convention, with the ambition to become a police officer.

Harley working with local police

“As a result of Harley discussing what he wanted out of life when we were in Geneva, I contacted the Chief Constable of Harley’s local station on Twitter,” enthuses Helen, who was able to share Harley’s drive and ambition.

“Prior to the pandemic, Harley had a job with the police as an evidence officer,” enthuses Helen. Thanks to Helen’s proactivity, she has supported Harley to get into his dream career, whilst advocating for the wider learning disabled community.

Alongside the clinical care nurses provide, a nurse is also on hand to ensure people have fulfilling, independent lives.


The theme for this year’s International Nurses Day is A Voice to Lead, with a sub-category looking at creating a vision for the future of healthcare. It is imperative that learning disability nursing is included in this vision.

Helen continues: “The importance of International Nurses Day is to celebrate what we all do. Another one of our mantras in learning disability nursing is together we are better; we are a family of families. We celebrate together, and learn from each other.

“Every registered nurse has the same essential skill base to make or break a life, and that is what we are celebrating.”

And, to all nurses, Helen’s message is: “Nursing gives you routes to take into roots. Wherever you plant those roots, you need to make sure that nobody is left behind.”

To learn more about learning disability nursing, visit Positive Choices Network. Follow Helen’s career at University of Nottingham and on Twitter.

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