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Nurses overlooked in DHSC learning disability plan, says RCN

Strategy to get people with learning disabilities and/or autism out of mental health hospitals does not engage with learning disability nurses, says RCN lead

Strategy to get people with learning disabilities and/or autism out of mental health hospitals does not engage with learning disability nurses, says RCN lead

A government action plan to get people with a learning disability and/or autism out of mental health hospitals overlooks nurses, according to the RCN lead for learning disability nursing.

Last week the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced Building the Right Support for People with a Learning Disability and Autistic People , which sets out how it will reduce the number of people in inpatient

Strategy to get people with learning disabilities and/or autism out of mental health hospitals does not engage with learning disability nurses, says RCN lead

A government action plan to get people with a learning disability and autism out of mental health hospitals overlooks nurses
Picture: iStock

A government action plan to get people with a learning disability and/or autism out of mental health hospitals overlooks nurses, according to the RCN lead for learning disability nursing.

Last week the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced Building the Right Support for People with a Learning Disability and Autistic People, which sets out how it will reduce the number of people in inpatient facilities.

Failure to engage with vital specialist nursing experience

There are 2,010 people with a learning disability and/or autism in specialist mental health inpatient units and the government pledged to reduce the number to less than 1,500 by March 2024, following numerous abuse scandals, including Winterbourne View in 2011.

But while the plan is seen as a long-overdue step forward, RCN professional lead for learning disability nursing Jonathan Beebee said he is concerned that the ‘action plan’ fails to engage learning disability nurses.

‘While this action plan is definitely welcome, it is limited and there’s no mention of learning disability nurses at all,’ he said.

‘Learning disability nursing is a highly skilled specialty, and our nurses could offer vital insight and engagement with the government to ensure that the action plan is patient-led.’

Number of learning disability nurses halved since 2009

Additionally, the action plan does not address how the workforce will be adapted to increase care in the community for people with a learning disability and/or autism.

According to NHS Digital, the number of learning disability nurses has almost halved, from 5,553 in September 2009 to 3,098 in September 2021, and there are currently only 1,872 community learning disability nurses in the NHS.

A Health Foundation report, published on Wednesday, warns of a 38,000 nurse shortfall by 2024.

Pressure on government to drive recruitment

Mencap executive director of communications, advocacy and activism Jackie O’Sullivan called on the government to urgently devise a workforce strategy to retain this vital group of nurses.

She said:Learning disability nurses play a vital role in many health and care settings and are key to ensuring this group of people, who are so often forgotten, excluded and discriminated against, get the healthcare support ​and reasonable adjustments they need.

‘Learning disability nurses make all the difference to care outcomes but there is already a huge shortage of people in this crucial role.’

A DHSC spokesperson said it was working to recruit more nurses and reach the government’s 50,000 manifesto target.

They added: ‘As part of this the DHSC is encouraging more people to become specialist learning disability nurses and is offering eligible students £1,000 extra per academic year on top of a non-repayable training grant of £5,000.’

Building the Right Support for People with a Learning Disability and Autistic People

What the plan promises:

  • DHSC pledged to ensure people can live independent lives by offering better support from birth
  • It plans to speed up discharges from inpatient settings
  • Professional development budgets will be introduced for nurses and other health professionals to support them in their development and training
  • Improve the capacity and capability of crisis support in every area of the country
  • Limiting the scope under which people with a learning disability and autistic people can be detained under the Mental Health Act

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