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More learning disability nursing students: another COVID-19 booster

Applications for nursing degree courses have risen, thanks in large part to the pandemic

Latest data shows applications and acceptances for university nursing degree courses have risen in 2021, thanks in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic

The news that COVID-19 has encouraged more people to go into nursing is one of the unexpected benefits from a pandemic that has caused so much distress.

A Universities and Colleges Admissions Service survey found that 69% of the 2,690 people who applied for a nursing degree course in England said the pandemic was a key factor in their choice.

Increase in people accepted onto learning disability nursing degree courses

Looking at

Latest data shows applications and acceptances for university nursing degree courses have risen in 2021, thanks in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic

The latest data shows applications for nursing degree courses have risen, thanks in large part to the pandemic
Picture: iStock

The news that COVID-19 has encouraged more people to go into nursing is one of the unexpected benefits from a pandemic that has caused so much distress.

A Universities and Colleges Admissions Service survey found that 69% of the 2,690 people who applied for a nursing degree course in England said the pandemic was a key factor in their choice.

Increase in people accepted onto learning disability nursing degree courses

Looking at the figures, which don’t include Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the numbers of people applying for and being accepted onto learning disability nursing degree programmes appears to have gone up in the past four years. In 2017, 350 were accepted, and by 2021 that figure had risen by 48% to 520.

Admittedly, these figures are small and the numbers are also down compared to 2016 and before, as well as being still below what is really needed.

Some good news though but, sadly, it comes after the announcement that another university has decided to stop offering learning disability nursing as an undergraduate course. The University of East Anglia (UEA) blames a decline in applicants for the decision but it says current cohorts will not be affected.

Explaining the decision it is clear that UEA plans to incorporate caring for people with learning disabilities and/or autism into its other programmes.

So, is that the future?

Three years ago, former consultant editor of Learning Disability Practice Bob Gates wrote that this specialist branch of nursing is under serious threat despite having ‘so much to offer the NHS and wider social and health economies’.

New nursing students won’t enter the workforce until 2024

Having much to offer is certainly true. The journal’s current consultant editor Michael Brown recently commented there is so much need for specialist learning disability nurses that now is actually a good time to be one.

The new students will not enter the workforce, which badly needs them, until 2024 and there’s no doubt that there is more need for better understanding of and care for people with learning disabilities and/or autism more generally as the Oliver McGowan mandatory training has established.

But this approach cannot and should not replace the role a specialist nurse offers.

There is a plan to reset and boost the profession.

Let’s hope the latest increase in applicants does just that.

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