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Value of learning disability nurse role in children’s hospitals

Can learning disability nurses enhance perceptions of capacity among hospital staff?

Learning disability nurses are valued in children’s hospitals, but it is unclear if they enhance perceptions of capacity or confidence among other staff

Picture: Roy Mehta

This study explored the nature and extent of learning disability nurse provision in children’s hospitals in England and the perceptions of staff.

Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with 48 senior staff from 15 children’s hospitals, including a subset of professionals employed in a learning disability nurse role. Anonymised surveys were completed by 1,681 clinical and non-clinical staff, 45% of whom worked in hospitals with dedicated learning disability nurse provision.

Eight of the 15 hospitals had some form of learning disability nurse provision. Where they were in place there were notable variations in numbers of nurses per hospital, their training, job titles, the scope or focus of practice and wider responsibilities.

How these roles should be used

Comparison of survey responses showed learning disability nurse roles were valued and there was a positive effect on perceived capability across the wider workforce to care for children and young people with learning disabilities.

But there was inconclusive evidence about whether the learning disability nursing provision was sufficient to enhance staff teams’ perceptions of capacity or confidence, or increase how much children and young people were valued in hospitals or their safety and access to appointments.

The authors concluded that there needs to be further consideration about how these roles should be used across all settings, so as to provide the greatest effect for people who use services and their families.


Oulton K, Wray J, Hassiotis A et al (2019) Learning disability nurse provision in children’s hospitals: hospital staff perceptions of whether it makes a difference. BMC Pediatrics. 19: 192.

Dave Atkinson is an independent nurse consultant

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