Editorial

Learning disability nurse shortages: Now is the time to act on the evidence

The RCNi Nurse Awards underline the great work done by learning disability nurses, but staff shortages are critical

The RCNi Nurse Awards underline the great work done by learning disability nurses, but staff shortages are critical

Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust’s learning disabilities team won the Learning Disability Nursing category of the 2019 RCNi Nurse Awards
Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust’s learning disabilities team
won the Learning Disability Nursing category of the 2019 RCNi Nurse Awards
Photo: Barney Newman

The learning disability (LD) sector has faced tough criticism but it shows the true calibre of a profession when it can look at itself and ask where do we go from here? This is what happened at an event attended by more than 100 LD nurses at London South Bank University. 

The aim of the event was to produce a strategy for how LD nurses can respond to the criticism of poor care, the most high profile of which in one week in May was the BBC undercover documentary revealing poor care at Whorlton Hall hospital in County Durham.

RCNi Nurse AwardsThere are signs of change and many examples of great work being done by LD nurses, such as the achievements of our RCNi Nurse Awards LD winners.

NHS Improvement has introduced new standards for NHS trusts that appear to be working well. There is also the Foundation of Nursing Studies report Celebrate Me, which proves the value of LD nurses. 

NHS data clearly shows the decline in the number of learning disability nurses

But, as the RCN has warned, investment is needed badly.

Its analysis of NHS workforce data shows the number of LD nurses in NHS inpatient and secure units fell by almost 60% in the past decade; 2,309 LD nurses have been lost from the NHS in England since 2009, and the number of nurses working in clients’ homes has decreased by one quarter in ten years. 

Health Education England has just announced £2m funding which it says will be used to increase the workforce with 230 nurses and 150 trainee nursing associates. The news has been welcomed as a step in the right direction but does not go far enough to meet demand.

There is plenty of evidence that, where there are registered nurses working in appropriate numbers, outcomes for service users improve. Now is the time to act.

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