Fewer than 2 in 10 people with a learning disability are in employment – Alana Wellstead, who has learning difficulties, speaks out about the benefits of working at NHS England

This Learning Disability Awareness Week (19-25 June), Alana reminds us of the benefits to employing a diverse workforce, not only for the organisation but also the individual.

NHS England South has worked with the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust’s Project Search team – an international training programme aimed at supporting young people with learning disabilities into paid employment – to offer Alana Wellstead a four month placement, working 4 days a week at its regional office in Reading.

Alana explained: “My work placement at NHS England has been interesting and enjoyable. I have undertaken lots of tasks including laminating, printing agendas, scanning and more recently doing lots of work to help plan and run the regional team Away Day – printing all the name badges, doing the table stands and running the welcome desk on the day.”

Project Search students

Throughout her placement Alana has worked with a variety of teams including Finance, HR and Communications, giving her an opportunity to really get involved in different tasks and acquire new skills, setting her in good stead to finding paid, full-time employment in the future.

Talking about her experience Alana said: “This work placement is helping me towards getting a job in the future because of the new skills I have learnt. For example, I had not used technology much before and have now learnt how to use Excel and Word, Outlook for emails, printers and scanners and even placed calls.”

Reflecting upon her greatest achievement since working at NHS England Alana beamed and said: “Speaking publically for the first time in front of around 100 people at the staff Away Day.” It was the first time Alana had addressed such a large audience and the experience had clearly boosted her confidence and self-esteem.

Sheena Harper, Finance Support Analyst at NHS England South was pivotal in organising, securing and supporting Alana through her work placement. She commented: “Working at NHS England it is easy to feel distanced from the patients and communities we serve. Being given the opportunity to work with Project SEARCH to help a young person with a learning disability gain work experience that will assist her to find future paid employment has been of benefit to both Alana and the organisation.

“Alana continues to grow in confidence, work more independently and adds real value to the teams she is helping support. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Senior Management Team for their support to Project SEARCH and to the colleagues within Premier House who have been so welcoming and accommodating to Alana in finding suitable tasks for her to complete. It has been a huge privilege to get to know Alana over the past few weeks and I wish her well for the future.”

The Next Steps for the NHS Five Year Forward View document clearly committed to the NHS becoming a better and more inclusive employer by making full use of the talents of its diverse staff and the communities it serves. It also confirmed the programme to improve the employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities would be expanded and we will continue to support this in the south.

In addition, NHS England continues to drive forward the Transforming Care programme – helping reduce the inappropriate hospitalisation of people with learning disabilities. Hospitals are not homes, and the programme is working to improve the quality of people’s lives, allowing them to live within their local communities, closer to home, gain paid employment and have the ability to control the services they are offered.

Since the Transforming Care programme began implementation in spring 2015 the number of people in inpatient units has fallen by 11%. Over the next two years it will fall at least a further 25%, as better community alternatives are provided across England.









Alana Wellstead, NHS England South Region Work Experience Placement and Project Search Student