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Fears over learning disability care

New data shows 40% fall in specialist learning disability nurses since 2010

Mark Gould

Thursday, 16 August 2018

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is calling for urgent investment to attract more applicants into learning disability nursing as latest workforce data* shows a 40% drop in specialist nurses since 2010.

And the College says a lack of new students could also exacerbate the existing staff shortage. A survey of higher education institutions in England by the Council of Deans for Health on behalf of Health Education published earlier this year, found almost half (46%) have discussed discontinuing their learning disability nursing programmes this September.

The RCN says that since the removal of funding for nursing education, the number of applicants to learning disability nursing degree courses has fallen, making the programmes less financially viable to run.

Dame Donna Kinnair, the RCN's director of nursing, policy and practice, said: “The nursing shortage in England is harming some of the most vulnerable members of society.

“Those with learning disabilities already face a lower life expectancy and poorer health outcomes than the general population, and a lack of specialist knowledge will make matters worse.

“Without the specialist support provided by registered nurses, more patients may end up in institutions, away from their families and friends and shut off from society – this bleak Victorian image is not what care should look like in the 21st century.”

The RCN says the government’s offer of £10,000 golden hellos to postgraduate students in specific hard-to-recruit disciplines, such as learning disability nursing, has come too late and has been a missed opportunity to address the recruitment crisis this year.

It says Health Education England’s promise of extra funding to train 200 nursing associates, who spend at least 50% of their time working in learning disability, is not enough because while the new role has the potential to support people with a learning disability, these staff should never be used to substitute for registered nurses.

Ms Kinnair added: “Funding for extra nursing associates is too little too late. Ministers have known about the steady drop in applications for the best part of a decade, and have allowed a crisis to develop in learning disability care.”


*Learning Disability Services Monthly Statistics - (Provisional Statistics AT: April 2018, Final Statistics MHSDS: February 2018). NHS Digital, May 2018.

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