Campaign aims to make learning disability nursing a more appealing career option

Ageing workforce and some universities scaling down courses seen as contributory factors in recruitment and retention  

Ageing workforce and some universities scaling down courses seen as contributory factors in recruitment and retention 

Paul Vaughan: ‘We are at a critical
phase in learning disability nursing’
Picture: Tim George

How to change perceptions of learning disability nursing, update its image and encourage more people to see it as an attractive career option.

That was the theme of a one-day event held in Birmingham last month and organised by NHS England as part of the Nursing Now England campaign.

Critical phase in learning disability nursing

NHS England director of nursing transformation Paul Vaughan described the situation facing the field of practice as in a ‘critical phase’ with some universities scaling down their courses, an ageing workforce and an ongoing crisis in recruitment and retention.

He outlined the aims of the campaign as being to inspire young people to become learning disability nurses and ignite passion in the workforce.

‘We want to ensure that people with learning disabilities are not marginalised in our society so they are equal partners in ensuring care when they need it. We are at a critical phase in learning disability nursing,’ he said.

Simon Jones: ‘Unless we do 
something the workforce will
continue to decline’
Picture: John Houlihan

The event was attended by around 60 nurses, students and nurse academics.

Lack of awareness

RCN learning disability nursing forum chair Simon Jones commented: ‘There is a lack of awareness about what learning disability nurses do. Unless we do something the workforce will continue to decline.’

He added that there were a ‘continuing stream of scandals’, but there was some cause for optimism, with the University of Winchester deciding to open new learning disability nursing programmes.

However, independent nurse consultant Debra Moore said there was a growing trend with employers advertising jobs for mental health/learning disability nurses, despite the skill set being different.

‘Many mental health nurses are not equipped to deal with mental health issues and autism. You would not see a children’s nurse post advertised in such a way,’ she said.

Take action

Debra Moore said that many
mental health nurses ‘are not 
equipped for dealing with
autism’. Picture: Neil O’Connor

Ms Moore added that change happens when families take action, such as with the case of Paula McGowan, who instigated a parliamentary petition to get all health professionals trained in understanding the needs of people with learning disabilities.

The top two ideas to emerge from the Birmingham event were:

  • Everyone to have access to a learning disability nurse. 
  • Identify where registered learning disabilities nurses are working so the role can be identified for the future.

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