Altnagelvin Hospital new ED sensory room an oasis of calm for those with learning disabilities

Emergency Departments are busy, noisy, crowded and often chaotic places that can be scary for people with learning disabilities or sensory issues. 

Often these patients become over-stimulated and stressed in that type of environment. 

However, Altnagelvin Hospital has found a solution. A sensory room has been opened in its emergency department.

It’s the first of it’s kind in any hospital in Northern Ireland. Lit with soft lighting and calming projections and furnished with bean bags and sofas, the sensory room is described as an oasis of calm.

The initiative has been spearheaded by Clionagh McElhinney. Three years ago she was appointed as Northern Ireland’s first learning disability liaison nurse. 

It’s her job to look after the needs of learning disabled patients admitted to Altnagelvin. 

Clionagh soon recognized the need to make A&E a more welcoming place. 

She told UTV: “I’ve had so many carers and parents and service users saying that when they come into the emergency department they get very very stressed. By coming into the sensory room it creates that calm, soothing environment.

”The sensory room has been officially opened by actor James Martin. He has Downs Syndrome and is also an ambassador for learning disability charity Mencap. 

James said the sensory room was a good idea.

“It will just be great for people to calm down, to have ways to talk to them, speak their language and they will be happy,” he said.

James cut the ribbon for the official opening but the Altnagelvin’s sensory room has been operating since early December.

Martin McCool was one of the first patients to receive treatment in the room. Martin has autism and a learning disability. 

Admitted to A&E on a busy weekend night his Mum feared Martin wouldn’t cope and  they would have to leave. 

But Marie McCool says her son’s experience of hospital has been transformed. Martin was placed in the sensory room where he calmly spent over six hours and received all the treatment he needed.

Emergency Department Nurse Marie Mullan says the sensory room is making a big difference.

“I’ve found patients, when I’ve gone into see how they are feeling, are so relaxed. Some of them have even fallen asleep.”

Lead Nurse Colleen Hamilton says giving the appropriate care is now much easier for staff.

“It can be really difficult sometimes to be able to take blood, do procedures or even check the blood pressure of people with sensory difficulties. 

The room really relaxes individuals, it makes it so much easier to assist those patients and it just makes everybody chill out.” 

Altnagelvin’s sensory room is so successful other hospitals across Northern Ireland are being encouraged to open their own.