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RCN congress votes unanimously to preserve field of learning disability nursing

In a congress debate, members heard that universities were closing programmes and nurses leaving without being replaced

In a congress debate, members heard that universities were closing programmes and nurses leaving without being replaced

Jonathan Beebee
PBS4 director Jonathan Beebee: 'If there was a planned pincer movement to eradicate
a branch of nursing this is what it would look like.' Picture: John Houlihan

Nurses have voted unanimously to preserve the field of learning disability nursing at a time when there has been an outcry over care failings.

In a debate at RCN congress, learning disability nurse Jonathan Beebee said the branch was being hit by a double whammy.

Nurses were retiring and not being replaced while, universities were closing their programmes deeming them uneconomic, said Mr Beebee in proposing the congress resolution.

Bursary impact

The field has traditionally attracted mature students but, since the abolition of the student bursary, the number enrolling on courses has dwindled.

Last week the Council of Deans of Health said 50% of universities were considering closing their learning disability nursing courses.

The University of Hertfordshire has also recently announced the suspension of recruitment to its undergraduate learning disability nursing courses at two of its three centres.

'Serious jeopardy'

At the same, Mr Beebee said, the recent publication of the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review report shows that people with learning disabilities die 30 years younger than the rest of the population – ten years earlier than previous research had shown. People with profound and multiple learning disabilities die, on average, at 41 years old.

Mr Beebee, a director of PBS4, a non-profit social enterprise which supports people with learning disabilities, said: 'The future of learning disability nursing is in serious jeopardy. We are the smallest of the branches with less than 3% of nurses onto the Nursing and Midwifery Council register.

'If there was a planned pincer movement to eradicate a branch of nursing this is what it would look like.'

Specialism is needed

RCN learning disability forum chair Simon Jones said: 'I can't understand why, when people with learning disabilities die so much earlier than the rest of the population, we are getting rid of learning disability nursing.

'Being a learning disability nurse is a bit like being on the Titanic. The difference being that this time we can see the iceberg coming.'

Learning disability nurse Katy Welch added that a patient with epilepsy or diabetes would expect to be treated by a specialist nurse. 'It is no different for a person with a learning disability,' she said.

RCN Northern Ireland board vice-chair Anne Campbell argued that there needs to be a clearly defined career path for learning disability nurses with the right skills and qualifications. She also called for a recruitment campaign to attract people into the field.

Action to protect vulnerable people

RCN president Cecilia Akrisie Anim, who has a daughter with learning disabilities, added that action to protect vulnerable people with learning disabilities was now needed.

The debate follows the start of a parliamentary petition to fund universities to explore new routes into learning disability nursing.

Learning disability nursing is due to celebrate 100 years of the first nurses joining the register next year.

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