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Number of mental health and learning disability nurses falls ‘significantly’ in a decade

NHS Employers says figures show growing gap between workforce and demand for services
Learning disability nurse with a patient

NHS Employers says figures show growing gap between workforce and demand for services

New data has revealed a large decline in numbers of nurses specialising in mental health and learning disabilities care in England.

The NHS Digital statistics show there were 36,196 mental health nurses in May this year, compared with 40,602 in September 2009.

Learning disability nurse numbers also declined, falling from 5,553 to 3,201 over the same period.

Sue Covill. Picture: Barney Newman

NHS Employers director of development and employment Sue Covill said: These figures reveal some sobering realities.

In mental health and learning disability nursing, staff numbers have significantly fallen over the past decade,

NHS Employers says figures show growing gap between workforce and demand for services


Picture: iStock

New data has revealed a large decline in numbers of nurses specialising in mental health and learning disabilities care in England.

The NHS Digital statistics show there were 36,196 mental health nurses in May this year, compared with 40,602 in September 2009.

Learning disability nurse numbers also declined, falling from 5,553 to 3,201 over the same period.


Sue Covill. Picture: Barney Newman

NHS Employers director of development and employment Sue Covill said: ‘These figures reveal some sobering realities. 

‘In mental health and learning disability nursing, staff numbers have significantly fallen over the past decade, while demand for care and services continues to grow.

‘There is a great deal of work to do to fill those gaps.’

NHS Employers has suggested ways that the government could increase specialist nurse numbers. These include: improving staff retention; developing a supportive policy for migrant nurses; reforming the apprenticeship levy; and reinstating funding for continuing professional development. 

Government cites work to boost nurse numbers

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the interim NHS People Plan will help to raise the profile of mental health and learning disability nursing. 

They added that the nursing degree apprenticeship programme will also boost staff numbers in these specialties.

‘We are already working to ensure that nurses in other sectors can easily move into mental health or learning disability nursing,’ they said. ‘And postgraduate students who started studying last year will receive a £10,000 incentive payment once they take up employment in these specialties.’

Responding to the data, RCN professional lead for mental health Catherine Gamble said the government must be held accountable for nurse numbers.

‘The upcoming spending review is a chance for the government to put their money where their mouth is and invest at least £1 billion a year in nursing higher education,’ she said.


View the NHS Digital data


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