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Decline in learning disability nurses prompts warning

Decisive action is needed to address falls in the number of learning disability nurses if ‘catastrophic’ consequences are to be avoided, a consultant nurse has warned after figures showing declines in the discipline


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Decisive action is needed to address falls in the number of learning disability nurses if ‘catastrophic’ consequences are to be avoided, a consultant nurse has warned after figures showing declines in the discipline.

Figures from NHS Digital, StatsWales and the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Workforce Census all reveal falls over the past five years.

The data, reported in the RCN’s UK Nursing Labour Market Review 2017, shows the number of learning disability nurses fell by 18.4% in England between 2013 and 2017, by 17% in Wales between 2012 and 2016, and by 5.3% in Northern Ireland between 2012 and 2016.

Independent consultant nurse Debra Moore said: ‘Unless this is rectified quickly the long-term consequence for the health and well-being of many people with learning disabilities could be catastrophic.’

University courses scrapped

She added: ‘We have enough evidence, including reports and research, identifying the dwindling numbers. What we need now is swift and decisive action.’

She said the declining numbers will hamper the aims of NHS England’s Transforming Care policy, which aims to ensure that services are tailored to help more people with learning disabilities live in the community or at home rather than spend prolonged periods in hospital.

A report by the Council of Deans of Health found some universities in England have scrapped their spring 2018 intake of learning disability nursing students after courses were undersubscribed in 2017.

It says: ‘In some universities, the fall in applications has been so great that it has threatened the viability of the course.

‘Some universities have started to question whether they can continue to offer this provision, and faculties are under increasing pressure to recruit enough students to keep courses open.’

Challenges for mature students

The council, which represents university faculties engaged in education and research for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals, believes study for the discipline has been particularly hard hit by the fall in mature students following the introduction of tuition fees in place of bursaries in England.

The council’s executive director Katerina Kolvya has called for better understanding of the challenges facing mature students, with investment if needed to recruit and support them.

England's chief nursing officer Jane Cummings said: 'A career in learing disability nursing can be hugely rewarding as it touches the lives of so many. We know positive experiences of services for people living with learning disabilities are reliant on our fantastic staff.

'I continue to look at improving the number of people who take up a career in learning disability nursing working in close collaboration with the Department of Health and Social Care and other partners on the future supply of nurses. As part of my work to support recruitment into this vital part of our workforce, last year, I launched a new fast track postgraduate programme which is attracting top graduates and targeting key areas including learning disability nursing.'

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service reports a decline in all mature nursing students, with 6% fewer students aged 26 and over in 2017 compared with 2016.

The council says 39% of learning disability students were aged 30 or over in 2015-16 and 56% were 25 or over.


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