Nurses who have dementia should be supported to continue their work for as long as they are able, a nursing union has agreed.
The decision was taken in a vote at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual Congress in Liverpool.
The nurse who proposed the idea said reasonable adjustments could be made to the job for colleagues with dementia.
The plan was controversial though, with some members arguing it could put patients at risk.
A dementia nurse from London, Jo James, suggested developing an RCN strategy for supporting colleagues with the condition.
She told the conference: “A dementia diagnosis is likely to signal the end of a nurse’s professional life.
“In a single moment they will go from nurse to patient, regardless of the severity of their dementia or how it’s affecting them.
“We have robust laws in place against discrimination – but dementia is often seen as the exception to the rule and stigmatised.”
An RCN steward from Coventry and Warwickshire, Phil Noyes, said he had represented a number of people with memory problems.
He said: “If we address this, we allow people to continue working for as long as they are able – and that’s the limit point.”
But some nurses expressed concern.
Mary Codling, a nurse from Berkshire, said: “I have grown up with people with dementia, and it’s been a constant theme in my life for the past 20 years.
“My father had dementia. To the outside world, he looked quite normal and carried on with his day-to-day life.
“But he was actually driving up and down one-way streets.
“How do you ensure that that person is delivering safe practice to patients?”
And doubts were also voiced by Shirley Ali, a senior anaesthetic practitioner from London.
She told the conference: “We administer drugs to the miniscule microgramme.
“If I have dementia and try to do my job, how am I ensuring patient safety?”
‘HR had a paddy’
Jo James thanked her colleagues for an “inspiring” debate.
She said: “I think we need an RCN strategy on this because it’s difficult to manage in the workplace.
“We don’t want people to hide their diagnosis from their managers because they’re frightened they will lose their livelihood.
“We need people with dementia to be honest and open about what’s happening.
“We should obviously never put patient safety at risk – but we can nurse in other ways.”
Jo James added: “We employed a member of staff because she has dementia. It was complicated – HR had a paddy.
“She teaches our staff and gets fantastic feedback.”
Afterwards, the head of the RCN Janet Davies said: “The chances are there will be workers who are developing dementia in every setting in the UK, in healthcare and beyond.
“Just because someone has a mental or physical impairment, it doesn’t mean they’re dangerous.
“The requirement for reasonable adjustments means you assess that person so they’re not putting anyone in danger.
“If they didn’t have the capacity, they wouldn’t be making critical decisions or calculations.”