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Exclusive: Lack of learning disability nursing applicants could force London South Bank University to scrap course

Learning disability nursing ‘treated as the poor relation’ – RCN

  • School of Health and Social Care’s staff consultation process to conclude at the end of May
  • RCN says learning disability nursing workforce ‘shrunk by 40%’ as applications plummet
  • NMC figures show decline in number of registered learning disability nurses since 2014 

Learning disability nursing ‘treated as the poor relation’ – RCN


London South Bank University. Picture: Alamy

A learning disability nursing course and jobs at a London university are at risk due to lack of student applicants.

London South Bank University (LSBU) is considering shutting its course as part of a wider consultation with School of Health and Social Care staff.

University and College Union (UCU) said it was in discussions with the university on behalf of its members and would be seeking no compulsory redundancies.

In a statement to Nursing Standard, health and social care school dean Warren Turner said: ‘We’re carrying out a consultation and will be reviewing our learning disability teaching as part of that review. Closure of the course is a potential outcome.’

Demise of the nursing bursary

Professor Turner indicated the review was needed because of a lack of students following the abolition in 2017 of the bursary for nursing students in England.

‘Following the loss of the NHS bursary to support students with their education we have seen a significant reduction in applications,’ he said.

‘We were unable to recruit a bachelor of science intake to learning disability nursing in September 2017 and applications are again showing we are unlikely to recruit a viable intake to either the bachelor of science or the postgraduate diploma courses for September 2018.’

Professor Turner said the consultation will conclude at the end of this month.

Union calls for no compulsory redundancies

UCU regional official Greg Barnett said: ‘‘We will be seeking a commitment to no compulsory redundancies and working to minimise the impact of any changes on students and staff.’

London South Bank is the most recent institution to struggle to recruit students for its learning disability nursing course with other English universities facing similar challenges.

Earlier this year, the University of Hertfordshire suspended recruitment to undergraduate learning disability nursing courses at two centres due to a continued 'year-on-year decline' in applicants.

‘There have been many reports into care failings for those with learning disabilities. Without appropriate numbers of suitably qualified nurses further failures may be inevitable’

Jude Diggins

RCN London regional director Jude Diggins described the news of another course potentially closing a ‘huge concern’.

‘Learning disability nursing has not had the focus and investment it deserves and has been treated as the poor relation of other nurse specialisms,’ she said.  

‘This lack of focus, illustrated by the sustained cuts to training budgets, has caused the workforce to shrink by 40%, and now the scrapping of the student nurse bursary has seen applications plummet and leaves universities questioning whether courses are viable.’

Ms Diggins urged the government to support learning disability nursing or face the consequences of lower care standards.

‘There have been many reports into care failings for those with learning disabilities,’ she said. ‘Without the appropriate numbers of suitably qualified nurses further failures may become inevitable.’

Pattern of decline

Overall nursing student university applicants in England have fallen by a third since the bursary ended.

According to the March 2018 Nursing and Midwifery Council register, there are 17,174 learning disability nurses in the UK.

This figure represents a four-year decline from the 18,933 in 2014.


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