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The importance of sight loss training

Iain Kennedy, Lead for Health and Social Care Skills Development, RNIB

Iain Kennedy, Lead for Health and Social Care Skills Development, RNIB

Winnie Smith, Training and Development Manager, RNIB

Winnie Smith, Training and Development Manager, RNIB

In the UK, there are over 2 million people living with sight loss. This sight loss is severe enough to have a significant impact on their daily lives and the number is only going up, estimated to double to over 4 million people by 2050. The Royal National Institute of Blind people (RNIB) has been working for over 155 years, with the purpose of building the perfect country for everybody with sight loss.

Understanding of sight loss and the impact it has should be an integral part of all Health and Social Care training. It is not only important for those supporting individuals with sight loss but is vitally important for anyone supporting individuals with complex needs. Adults with learning disabilities are 10 times more likely to experience sight loss than the general population. In addition, there is a higher prevalence of sight loss in people living with dementia, especially those living in care homes. Sadly however, sight loss in individuals with complex needs is often missed and the consequence of sight loss, such as changes in behaviour, are attributed to their additional needs instead.

RNIB’s Health and Social Care Skills Development team support health and social care professionals and organisations by designing and delivering training courses and providing skills development opportunities alongside resource development. This training should be seen as an essential part of any staff teams training and induction to ensure care teams of the future are developed to cope with the growing complexity of need for people they support.

As a skills development team we recognise the need for a flexible approach to learning and differing learning styles. Training can no longer be solely face to face, and length of sessions require careful consideration. Staffing difficulties/retention and prohibitive costs have highlighted the need for a more flexible approach.

eLearning, online workshops and Open Badges all form part of our suite of training resources and tools used to support teams to increase knowledge and skills in this area.

Working alongside professionals in these sectors for over 20 years has allowed the team to see first hand the evolving nature of care, with greater focus on personalisation. There is now more than ever a need to include sight loss awareness training into the planning and development of services.

With the high prevalence of sight loss within the sector and with numbers set to increase in the future, implementing a diverse training strategy, including sensory loss will allow not only to offer the best possible personalised care and support, but ensure the staff have the necessary tools and knowledge to enjoy and flourish within their role.

RNIB’s Health and Social Care Skills Development team have received funding from Caretech Foundation to design, develop and deliver an innovative sight loss training programme. The Vision Friends programme upskills professionals to understand the impact of sight loss for people with Learning Disabilities and to recognise potential signs, while also providing a structured supporting toolkit to support people to access primary eye care in a timely and meaningful manner. This development has seen 150 staff trained to Vision Friends level and this year will focus on imbedding this learning further into the organisations learning and development programme by delivering a Train the Trainer programme. This will allow the knowledge and learning to stay within the organisation and staff throughout the whole organisation to have access to the is training programme and as part of annual learning and development planning/induction programmes.

This year we have trained over 2500 professionals.Evidence shows the positive impact training has on professionals and most importantly, on service users. Professionals from Avenues (a specialist provider of support services for individuals with complex needs) received training by the team and reported that staff had improved confidence and knowledge on supporting people with sight loss, whilst also decreasing challenging behaviour and increasing confidence of service users.

Kathryn Mackmin, a Quality Manager at Oakleaf Care (a residential home providing neurorehabilitation and specialist care, part of the CareTech Foundation) had this to say:

“This training course was excellent…something we could easily implement and embed into our service. After going on the Vision Friends training course, I came back thinking it was a brilliant training day and that we needed to do the Vision Champion course too. We now have a total of 19 Vision Friends and 7 Vision Champions”.

“At Oakleaf we were looking after a gentleman with a visual impairment and this training experience has given us another perspective. We were able to understand that his behaviours might not just be a result of mental health, but sight loss”


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