Student nurse wins national Makaton competition

Wednesday, 13 March 2024

A third-year learning disability nursing student from the University of Nottingham has developed a resource for healthcare workers to help them use Makaton when communicating with patients who have learning or communication difficulties.

Ellie Sims, 26, won the national competition, run by Positive Choices and the Makaton Charity, and her resource will now be rolled out across the country to any healthcare professional who is patient facing.

Makaton is the UK’s leading programme for adults and children with learning or communication difficulties. Over 100,000 children and adults use Makaton symbols and signs, either as their main method of communication or as a way to support speech. It is used by children and adults with communication and learning difficulties as well as the people they interact with daily, such as teachers, health professionals, and people in public services.

The aim of the competition was for the recognition of Makaton to be more widespread within healthcare, both within adult and children’s services. Healthcare professionals should have a basic understanding of Makaton and be able to use it regularly in practice.

Ellie has developed a document containing simple signs and symbols that can be used by anyone working in healthcare, to enable them to communicate directly with patients with learning disabilities or communication difficulties. Some of the phrases in the document will include ‘hello my name is’…’Do you feel pain?’…and are you taking medication?’.

Makaton has now invested thousands of pounds bringing Ellie’s resource to fruition and it will be launched at the Positive Choices conference in April.

Ellie has used Makaton in daily life since her 10-year-old sister was born with Down’s syndrome. She has also worked in special needs schools and currently coaches a football team in Mansfield for children with learning difficulties.

Ellie said: “As Makaton isn’t taught as a standard to people in healthcare settings, most people don’t know how to use it, and people don’t really have the time to do extra training to combat that issue. I hope this quick and easy document will lift the communication barrier that often exists between patients with communication difficulties and healthcare professionals at appointments.

Through my own personal experience, and from listening to feedback from parents and carers, it can be frustrating when you take someone with a learning disability to the doctors for example, and the doctor will very often speak to the parent or carer rather than the individual. I wanted to enable them to communicate directly with their patient and let them live more independently.”
Ellie Sims

Ellie was presented with her award by Makaton ambassador Amanda Glennon and David Harling BEM, National Deputy Director for Learning Disability Nursing.

Zanna Finnerty, Director of the Makaton Language programme said: “Ellie's hard work and dedication exemplifies Makaton's mission to make communication accessible, and her commitment to empowering individuals with learning disabilities is admirable. Her initiative provides healthcare professionals and patients with fantastic tools, including appointment cards and a health passport, to bridge communication gaps and offer patients more independence. We are proud to be supporting Ellie with bringing her resources to fruition, and we look forward to the positive change her resources will bring to both patients and healthcare professionals nationwide.”

Helen Laverty, Assistant Professor in Learning Disability Nursing in the School of Health Sciences at the University, said: “I am delighted for Ellie, this award is so well deserved. The resource she has developed is a huge game changer for people who have a learning disability, and through her resource she will now play a part in helping to empower anyone living with learning or communication needs to understand and be understood.”

Charlotte Anscombe - Media Relations Manager - Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Phone: 0115 748 4417

Notes to editors:

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

More news…

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
YANG Fujia Building
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798