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More needs to be done to recruit learning disability nurses

Sector under ‘great threat’ and ‘downward trajectory’ of recruitment due to stronger focus on adult nursing in university courses, suggests top academic

Sector under ‘great threat’ and ‘downward trajectory’ of recruitment due to stronger focus on adult nursing in university courses, suggests top academic

Learning disability nursing is under ‘great threat’ and more needs to be done to recruit and retain nurses in the sector, a leading academic has suggested.

Chair of the Council of Deans of Health Brian Webster-Henderson said the ‘downward trajectory’ of recruitment to learning disability was likely due to a much stronger focus on adult nursing in university courses.

‘Need to push up the attractiveness of learning disability nursing as a career’

‘We’ve seen many courses across the

Sector under ‘great threat’ and ‘downward trajectory’ of recruitment due to stronger focus on adult nursing in university courses, suggests top academic

Brian Webster-Henderson, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, spoke at last week’s RCNi’s Learning Disability Practice webinar for nurses
Brian Webster-Henderson, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, spoke at last week’s RCNi’s Learning Disability Practice webinar for nurses

Learning disability nursing is under ‘great threat’ and more needs to be done to recruit and retain nurses in the sector, a leading academic has suggested.

Chair of the Council of Deans of Health Brian Webster-Henderson said the ‘downward trajectory’ of recruitment to learning disability was likely due to a much stronger focus on adult nursing in university courses.

‘Need to push up the attractiveness of learning disability nursing as a career’

‘We’ve seen many courses across the UK close. Despite having an All-England plan for learning disability nursing, we’re not seeing the turn that we need in really pushing up the attractiveness of learning disability nursing as a career,’ he told nurses at RCNi’s Learning Disability Practice webinar last week.

‘We need to portray key messages around the complexity and beautification of learning disability nursing’

Brian Webster-Henderson, chair of the Council of Deans of Health

‘If I look at my own university, we do provide learning disability courses, but it’s been difficult for me to justify that to our university board, particularly when I look at this year’s number where we recruited three students.

‘Programmes can become very adult nursing-focused and actually, adult nurses need to know so much more about learning disability patients.’

The All-England Plan for Learning Disability Nursing was launched in 2020 in a bid to get more learning disability nurses into the NHS by creating more pathways to becoming an learning disability nurse. It comes as numbers of nurses in this sector continue to fall.

Access to specialist nurses is crucial for many patients with a learning disability

NHS workforce statistics show the numbers of registered learning disability nurses in England’s NHS have fallen by 31% over the past decade, with 4,353 working in the NHS in July 2012 compared to 2,983 in July 2022.

Professor Webster-Henderson, who is also deputy vice chancellor at the University of Cumbria, highlighted the value of learning disability nursing in other areas of nursing, explaining that for many patients with a learning disability, access to specialist nurses was vital.

All nurses are now able to access the Oliver McGowan mandatory training programme, which aims to empower nurses to improve care for people with a learning disability or autism, but Professor Webster-Henderson said this was ‘no substitute’ for having an experienced registered learning disability nurse in post.

Number of learning disability nurses graduating in the UK dropped by 30%

When asked how learning disability nursing could be made more attractive to potential students, he said it was important to hear the voices of people working in the sector and the career opportunities they have had.

‘There’s a lot we need to do nationally and locally in campaigns, listening to the voices of not just our students and our staff, but of the clients they work with. We need to portray key messages around the complexity and beautification of learning disability nursing,’ Professor Webster-Henderson added.

According to Freedom of Information data collected by Nursing Standard, the number of registered learning disability nurses graduating in the UK dropped 30% in three years, with 502 graduates in 2018 and 352 in 2021. Meanwhile, 8,334 adult nursing students graduated in 2021.

Health Education England’s (HEE) chief nurse Mark Radford said HEE continues to support providers in increasing numbers in learning disability training, which includes trainee nurse associates.

‘We also continue to showcase and highlight the range of career options for learning disability nurses through our website, which has now had 22,000 visits. It also contains a number of resources, including films and animations that can be used to inform people about learning disability nursing as a career,’ he added.

The Department of Health and Social Care said there are around 1,300 learning disability undergraduate nurses currently in training. Out of 5,100 post-graduate nursing trainees, around 100 are in learning disabilities – compared to 1,100 in mental health.


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