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Learning disability nursing: RCN calls for urgent investment to recruit more staff

College says NHS in England has lost 2,309 nurses in the specialty since 2009

College says NHS in England has lost 2,309 nurses in the specialty since 2009


Picture: Apex

Urgent investment is needed in learning disability nursing, the RCN has warned.

The college’s analysis of NHS workforce data shows the number of learning disability (LD) nurses in NHS inpatient and secure units fell by almost 60% in a decade.

The renewed call for more staff comes as LD nurses gather at the House of Lords today to mark 100 years since the first ‘mental deficiency nurses’ were registered in England. 

Staffing figures

The RCN analysis reveals:

  • A total of 2,309 LD nurses have been lost from the NHS in England since September 2009, when there were more than 5,500.
  • The number of LD nurses working in inpatient and secure services has more than halved from 2,948 in 2009 to 1,292 in 2019.    
  • Despite a shift towards providing care in the community, the number of nurses working in the homes of clients has decreased by a quarter in ten years.

Thinking ahead


Ann Norman.
Picture: Mark Hakansson

RCN professional lead for learning disabilities Ann Norman said progress made by LD nurses could not be sustained unless the current staffing crisis was tackled.

‘As alarming as the staffing figures are, it’s equally perplexing that there’s no register to tell us whether learning disability nurses who quit the NHS are going to work for contracted providers or leaving the profession altogether,’ she added.

‘This is why it’s time for a properly resourced staffing plan based on clear evidence from the front line, and the legislation and investment to see it through.’

Raising the profile of the specialty

The government’s interim NHS People Plan, published earlier this month, called for a focus on hard-to-recruit areas such as LD nursing.

Responding to the RCN figures, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘LD nurses perform a vital role supporting vulnerable people.

‘Our interim NHS People Plan commits to take action to increase their numbers by raising the profile of the role and widening access through apprenticeship programmes. 

‘We are already working to ensure nurses in other sectors can easily move into LD nursing.’

Recruitment strategy

The spokesperson also highlighted the initiative announced last year in which postgraduates are offered a £10,000 incentive to train and work in fields of nursing that are struggling to recruit.

The incentive, which only applies to postgraduates who started loan-funded courses during the 2018-19 academic year, will be paid out after they enter LD, mental health or district nursing.


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