Help for Disabled Nurses to Return to Work

Posted 14th June 2010

RCN Bulletin has kindly given us permission to reproduce an article entitled 'Following a different path', concerning Nursing staff who develop disabilities and may have to consider changing roles.  by Cathy Taylor, RCN Careers Adviser.

Kate Owen, a district nurse team leader for Dudley Community Services, is one of many RCN members forced into a job change by a back injury.  Kate hurt her back on a neurosurgical unit and after trying other, lighter duties in the trust she then worked for, she moved to a community role nine years ago.  Her greatest source of help was WING, the RCN’s Work Injured Nurses’ Group.  ‘The advice and support I got from other nurses in similar positions was what helped me – the feeling that you’re not on your own,’ Kate says.

The Modernising nursing careers (MNC) framework, developed by the Department of Health in England, has identified five nursing career pathways:

·         Children, family and public health

·         First-contact and urgent care

·         Supporting long-term care

·         Acute and critical care

·         Mental health and psychosocial care

Taking time to see which broad area of nursing appeals to you can help you to decide on relevant roles.  For example, within the pathway of children, family and public health, nurses with disabilities have transferred successfully to roles such as health visiting, occupational health nursing, sexual health and school nursing.  Others find roles in smoking cessation or travel health.

First-contact nursing includes the telephone triage and assessment services that have developed through NHS Direct, NHS 24, ambulance services and GP out-of-hours provision.  A move to practice nursing may also be an option for some nurses, while those involved in the delivery of mental health and psychosocial care may branch into related areas such as counselling or other psychological services.

Wider options

Within each pathway there is the option to develop your career in the fields of research, management, education or clinical areas.  More than 25 per cent of nurses are employed outside the NHS – for example, in charities, the private sector, the pharmaceutical industry, recruitment nursing agencies, insurance companies, and further and higher education.

Waking for yourself?

For some nurses the flexibility provided by self-employment may be the answer.  Guidance on this is available in the RCN publication Nurse Entrepreneurs: turning initiative into independence, available on the website – or by calling RCN Direct on 0345 772 6100.

Not every disabled nurse will be able to or want to continue in nursing.  However, by working through a career planning process, it is possible to gain greater self-awareness of your strengths and interests, generate alternative opportunities and feel more in control of your life.  Support to do this is available from the RCN’s career adviser. 

Employment protection

If your health or disability is affecting you at work, we recommend that you seek support from the RCN before you agree to any changes in your employment.  The Disability Discrimination Act makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis of disability.  Advice on this is available from RCN Welfare Rights and Guidance.

You can also join WING or the Disabled Nurses Network.  Both are peer-support groups for injured, ill or disabled members. 

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