Communication for all service users

Back in April 2017, I attended a conference called positive choices in Hull, with a group of my learning disability nursing students, lecturers and qualified nurses from Edge Hill University. This is a conference that takes place annually and brings together learning disability nursing students from across the U.K.

The aim of the conference is to keep students up to date with the latest happenings in our field of practice, as well as raising the profile of learning disability nursing and celebrating the achievements of the people we support.

It was here that I first met Amanda Glennon, a Makaton Tutor, who taught us some basic Makaton signs that would be useful in practice and she also told us about her daughter Alice.

Alice is a fun, loving, energetic young girl who communicates via Makaton. Alice has had numerous medical appointments with various healthcare professionals over the years, and Amanda informed us that not one healthcare professional had been able to communicate with Alice through signing.

It was this story, along with the #GetTheNationSigning and #HelloMyNameIs campaigns that inspired myself and my colleague,  Eve Hesketh, to make a change. We wanted to teach student nurses from other fields of practice the importance of adapting your communication skills when communicating with a person with a learning disability and how we should always include them in conversations regarding their health and wellbeing.

The two of us making 300 sets of 8 symbols. It took weeks!!

We started this project by providing the September 2017 cohort of student nurses at Edge Hill University with a communication workshop. This cohort includes student nurses from all four fields of nursing. 

This workshop involved explaining why adapting our communication skills as professionals is so important as well as demonstrating how to introduce yourself in Makaton by signing ‘hello my name is...’.

At the end of the workshop we provided each student with a communication aid that included a set of 8 cards with a Makaton symbol on one side and the corresponding Makaton sign on the other.

The students were able to take these communication aids on their first nursing placements and when we conducted an evaluation with the cohort about the project we received positive feedback. The students gave examples of when they had used the aids in practice and how they had enhanced the service user’s experiences.

Comments we received from the students included:

  • "..used them in placement at a hospital when it was tea time and I used the eat and drink sign. The patient also communicated when they needed the toilet" Student nurse (child)
  • "the patient I used them with had Huntington’s disease and was unable to communicate verbally" Student nurse (adult)

These comments highlight that Makaton can be used with a variety of service users, with varying needs.

This project has been expanded and recreated with student paramedics, as well as being implemented in the first year of the nursing curriculum at Edge Hill University. Our aim is to expand this project further and deliver it to other student health professionals as well as introducing them in local NHS trusts.

It is important that awareness of adapting communication skills in order to meet the individual needs of people you work with is increased within the health service and how much of an impact this can make to people lives.

Not just settling for teaching as many healthcare professionals to sign #hellomynameis as possible, we recently had the chance to meet Holly and Phil from This Morning. After explaining the reasoning behind the project they were both more than willing to take part...

We are on a mission to help spread the word. Watch this space!

The Makaton Healthcare Cards are available as a free download from the Makaton Library.


UPDATE 1st May 2019
Eve, Emily and their colleague Alice Waddington have won the award for Student Innovation in Practice in the Student Nursing Times Awards 2019.

“We are over the moon to have won this award and want to thank Makaton, Amanda, Alice and everyone at Edge Hill University for all their support. By winning this award we are hoping that we have gained a bigger platform to enable greater communication for all, across the NHS. We are extremely proud that this has already begun, with Alice’s paediatrician pledging to learn some signs for her next appointment.”