Urgent investment needed as learning disability nurse numbers stall

Dire shortage in England's NHS could be putting patients’ lives at risk, RCN says
Learning disability nurse

Dire shortage in England's NHS could be putting patients’ lives at risk, RCN says

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Investment is vital to encourage more people to enter learning disability nursing, as the number of these specialist nurses in the NHS hovers near a 2018 low, the RCN says.

The college says a dire shortage of learning disability nurses in England’s NHS could be putting patients’ lives at risk. It wants the government to gather clearer, more accurate workforce data to aid recruitment and retention.

RCN wants ministers for patient care in four UK nations

RCN professional lead for learning disability nursing Jonathan Beebee said: ‘People with learning disabilities die on average 25 years sooner than the general population. Specialist care can transform their lives.’

The latest figures from NHS Digital show there were 3,214 learning disability nurses in February 2021, up only 22 from the 2018 low of 3,192. The 2018 figure was down 42% on 2009’s 5,553.

There is no specific data on how many learning disability nurses work outside the NHS in England, but Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) figures show there are 17,128 such nurses on its UK register.

A new RCN report on the future of learning disability nursing says governments in all four UK nations should identify a responsible minister or commissioner to take responsibility for the agenda of addressing the needs of people with learning disabilities. It also calls for more funding for training and education of nurses in the specialism and a strategy to prevent recurrence of abuse experienced by people with learning disabilities.

Mr Beebee said: ‘Investment is needed to encourage people to take the career path into learning disability nursing.’

Learning disability charity Mencap's head of policy, Dan Scorer, said: ‘Learning disability nurses can make all the difference to a group of people so often forgotten. We need to see the government urgently address the sustained fall in nurse numbers, particularly across England.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘To attract people to the profession we are offering all eligible nursing students a non-repayable training grant of at least £5,000 per academic year. On top of this, eligible learning disability nursing students are able to receive a further £1,000 per academic year.’

They added that this year the number of people accepted onto learning disability nursing courses was up 20%, compared with 2019.

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