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RCN reiterates call to improve provision of learning disability liaison nurses

College president tells Mencap conference that more nurse training in this specialty is urgently needed
Learning disability nursing

Every hospital should have a liaison nurse for people with learning disabilities to improve these individuals experience of healthcare, the RCN has said.

The college has been calling for all acute hospitals to have 24-hour access to at least one of these specialist nurses by 2020-2021.

RCN president Cecilia Akrisie Anim emphasised the need for this provision at an event in London last week, organised by learning disability charity Mencap to launch its Treat Me Well campaign. Treat Me Well aims to improve the experience of those with learning disabilities when they access healthcare.

The number of learning disability nurses has declined rapidly over the past seven years, Ms Akrisie Anim told the event audience.

Recognising complex needs

Ms Akirisie Anim said it was important for learning disability nurses to be trained to recognise the complex needs that

Every hospital should have a liaison nurse for people with learning disabilities to improve these individuals’ experience of healthcare, the RCN has said.


Picture: Tim George

The college has been calling for all acute hospitals to have 24-hour access to at least one of these specialist nurses by 2020-2021.

RCN president Cecilia Akrisie Anim emphasised the need for this provision at an event in London last week, organised by learning disability charity Mencap to launch its Treat Me Well campaign. Treat Me Well aims to improve the experience of those with learning disabilities when they access healthcare. 

The number of learning disability nurses has declined rapidly over the past seven years, Ms Akrisie Anim told the event audience.

Recognising complex needs

Ms Akirisie Anim said it was important for learning disability nurses to be trained to recognise the complex needs that some people may have and the additional support they require.

She said her daughter, Ruth, has a learning disability and had received excellent care recently from a nurse who had received learning disability training.

‘But there are big differences in the quality of care received by people with a learning disability,’ she added.

‘RCN members tell me of the challenge of caring for people with complex needs without proper training.’

Falling numbers of specialist nurses

NHS Digital figures show there were 2,005 fewer learning disability nurses working in the NHS in England in October 2017 (3,363), compared with May 2010 (5,368).

The RCN’s Connect for Change report in 2016 recommended that there should be at least one learning disability liaison nurse in every acute hospital, and the college continues to demand action to achieve this goal.

Mencap’s Treat Me Well campaign comes ten years after the charity’s Death by Indifference report, which highlighted the tragic stories of six people with learning disabilities who died because of inequalities in healthcare provision.

Despite improvements in the past decade, the charity said 1,200 people with learning disabilities still die prematurely each year in England.

In March 2017, YouGov carried out a survey of 500 healthcare professionals on behalf of Mencap, 71% of whom were nurses.

It revealed that more than a third of staff (37%) believed that people with learning disabilities receive poorer care than other patients. And almost a quarter of respondents (23%) admitted to receiving no specific learning disability training.

Two thirds felt they wanted more training and exactly half of respondents suggested a lack of training was contributing to the number of avoidable deaths each year.

Staff training brings benefits

Mencap piloted awareness training between July 2016 and April 2017 at six different healthcare settings, holding 28 sessions and training 463 healthcare professionals, most of whom were nurses.

The charity hopes trusts and other organisations will adopt the principles involved after seeing the benefits such training can bring – which included 98% of attendees saying it changed their practice.

During the Treat Me Well launch, Nursing and Midwifery Council head of education, standards and quality improvement Peter Thompson said the new standards for pre-registration training would require nursing students to have knowledge of learning disabilities, following feedback with service users and Mencap.

‘We want all nurses to have some understanding of learning disabilities, but there will still be specialist learning disability nurses and that is really important,’ he said.


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