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Review finds unique relational skills are at the core of learning disability nursing

Australian researchers advocate person-centred care between specialist nurses and service users to combat workforce challenges

Australian researchers advocate person-centred care between specialist nurses and service users to combat workforce challenges


Relational rather than technical skills defined the learning disability nurse. Picture: Alamy

It is important to understand the unique offer of learning disability nurses to those they serve and to reflect on the potential effect of widely reported workforce challenges.

A team of Australian researchers reported findings from a systematic literature review, which sought to describe the specialist skills that nurses use when supporting people who have learning disabilities.

In contrast to other fields of nursing, the authors found that the effectiveness of learning disability nurses, regardless of scope of practice, was based on a unique set of relational, rather than technical skills. In other words, it wasn’t not so much about what learning disability nurses did, but rather about how they related to those they served.

Work proactively

Effective practice required nurses to work proactively and overcome communication difficulties, to provide genuinely person-centred care and act as effective health advocates.

Outcomes for people with learning disabilities were maximised where nurses were able to allow time for therapeutic relationships to develop and mature; and they needed to be adaptable and resilient when developing these relationships. Any failure of professional training and workforce planning to allow for this, risks a range of population-wide adverse events for people with learning disabilities.

Jaques H, Lewis P, O’Reilly K et al (2018) Understanding the contemporary role of the intellectual disability nurse: A review of the literature. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 27, 21-22, 3858-3871 


Dave Atkinson is an independent consultant nurse

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