'Urgent investment' needed in learning disability nursing, warns RCN

Learning disability nursing needs 'urgent investment' to attract more staff with nurse numbers plummeting by over 40% over the last decade, analysis of NHS workforce data by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has revealed. 

The warning from the RCN comes as figures showed that the number of learning disability nurses working for the NHS in England dropped from over 5,500 in September 2009 to 3,244 in February 2019.  

Over the same time period, the number of learning disability nurses working in the community decreased by 25% from 2,604 to 1,952 despite the shift towards providing care in the community.  

But it is inpatient and secure services that have borne the brunt of the shortfall with staff numbers having halved from 2,948 to 1,292 in the last decade.  

 

The College’s call comes as learning disability nurses from across the country gather at the House of Lords on Friday to mark 100 years of learning disability nursing.  

Commenting on the figures, RCN professional lead for learning disabilities Ann Norman said they show that ‘we can’t rest on our laurels’ despite the progress over the last century. 

She continued: ‘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. 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.’ 

Jonathan Beebee, a learning disability nurse in Southampton and RCN Learning Disability Forum committee member, is representing the RCN at the House of Lords event.  

He said: ‘Many of those who apply to become learning disability nurses are mature students who have had to consider whether they can afford to leave one career to train for another without any financial support, and then take on the debt of a loan.  It’s a shame that funding shortages are stopping people pursing his inspiring career that see nurses like me using our specialist knowledge to turn lives around. 

‘People with learning disabilities still face many inequalities including a shorter average life expectancy and poorer-than-average health outcomes, and we need more nurses to help these people to live fulfilling and independent lives.’ 

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