Urgent action needed to ensure learning disability nursing is not wiped out

As the population of people with learning disabilities continues to grow, retaining the number of high-quality learning disability nurses has never been more significant – and England is falling behind.  

Media coverage following the publication of the Learning Disability Mortality Review in England highlighted that having a learning disability should be viewed as a life-limiting condition.

Since the loss of the nursing bursary in England, universities have reported a 60% reduction
in nursing student applications. Picture: iStock

The evidence about the health inequalities experienced by people with learning disabilities and the many and significant barriers that contribute to their avoidable and premature death is well-established and widely-known. Yet despite the myriad of reports and investigations, the situation is not changing. 

This is worrying as the population of children, adults and older people with learning disabilities, many with multiple and complex health needs, is increasing and now living into older age. As a result, all health and social care services will be required to provide care and support for more people who have learning disabilities with more complex health needs.

Vital part of the workforce

Access to a knowledgeable and skilled workforce is therefore a central part of the solution to addressing the many challenges that exist. Learning disability nurses are a valuable and vital part of the health and nursing workforce – with specific education and preparation to work with people who have multiple and complex health needs as well as support and educate their families and carers.

Yet despite all the irrefutable evidence and needs, there are growing concerns about recruitment and sustainability of learning disability nursing undergraduate programmes in England. Some universities in England who deliver the learning disability nursing are reporting a 60% reduction in applications – making the programmes financially unsustainable. 

In contrast, where bursaries are paid in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the number of nursing students recruited to this field of practice is increasing; responding to the current and future service demands.

In England, urgent, strategic action is required to reverse this slide.

About the author

Michael Brown, consultant editor, Learning Disability Practice