Learning disability nursing: why we must stand up for our specialty

Nurse academic Louise Cogher on why we must fight the dilution of field-specific education if we want to improve care and tackle health inequalities

A young man with learning disabilities bonds with another man, learning disability nursing as a specialty is under threat
Picture: iStock

There is debate in mental health and children’s nursing fields about the creeping erosion of specialist field-specific content from undergraduate nursing programmes in favour of a more ‘generic’ approach to curriculum design and delivery.

This ‘dilution’ has been attributed to the future nurse standards and to individual higher education institutions’ interpretations of them. However, learning disability nursing appears to have remained resolutely silent in this debate.

Health inequalities and premature deaths remain shockingly high

The role of learning disability nurses and their preparation has been the focus of debate for decades, with threats for it to be discontinued.

And yet we are still here and the people we have chosen to care for have, arguably, never been more in need of our specialist knowledge and skills. Health inequality and premature deaths remain shockingly high and so-called specialist services for people with a learning disability are plagued by scandal.

The mass deinstitutionalisation of people with learning disabilities required a notion that ‘generic’ services would be able to support their health and social care needs. To date, this has not been realised with an ever-growing recognition of the importance of our role in specialised services and in ‘generic’ services.

It is our unique ability to apply nursing skills and knowledge to people with learning disabilities in any setting that enhances outcomes.

Learning disabilities specialty must be protected

Introducing mandatory training to raise awareness of the needs of people with learning disabilities and/or autism or both is welcomed. But it will not equip all health and social care staff with the specialist knowledge and skills to stop the health inequalities experienced by people with learning disabilities which would be a national scandal if they were experienced by other cohorts of the population.

As a field of nursing we seek the views of the people we have chosen to serve, but where is our voice for the future of this profession and future registrants of this specialist nursing field?

If we are truly committed to changing the experience of people with learning disabilities, we must also defend our profession and its preparation for future generations.

Have you tried RCNi Plus yet?

RCNi Plus offers unlimited access to RCNi Learning, Learning Disability Practice, Nursing Standard, our other specialist journals and RCNi Revalidation Portfolio to store your CPD for revalidation. Use the discount code TRIALPLUS to get it half price for three months. Click here for more details

Further information