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Let's bust some myths about learning disability nursing

Jonathan Beebee 20 Jun 2023 Area of Practice Learning Disabilities

Jonathan Beebee, RCN professional lead for learning disabilities nursing, explores myths surrounding this vital sector of the profession.

Learning Disability Week 2023 focuses on busting myths about people with learning disabilities, which is something learning disability nursing staff support every day in the work we do. I believe it’s also important as part of our work to address common misconceptions surrounding the roles and responsibilities of learning disability nursing staff. Here are just a few of the myths I’m keen to challenge: 

Myth #1: Learning disability nurses are not ‘real’ nurses. 
This is untrue. Registered nurses in learning disabilities are educated to the same standards as all other fields of nursing, and our training is focused on applying this nursing knowledge to work with people with learning disabilities. We have the same level of training and qualifications as other nurses and can work in any role that requires a registered nurse, providing we demonstrate the competencies for that role. Most learning disability nursing staff work in specific learning disability services where they undertake a wide range of nursing tasks. 

Myth #2: Learning disability nursing staff only work with children. 
While some learning disability nursing staff do work with children, many work with adults as well. They provide care and support to people with learning disabilities of all ages, helping them to live as independently as possible and to achieve their goals. 

Myth #3: Learning disability nurses don't do anything important
This couldn't be further from the truth. Learning disability nursing staff play a crucial role in supporting people with learning disabilities to manage their physical and mental health, communicate effectively, and live as independently as possible. We also provide support to families and carers, and work to ensure that people with learning disabilities are treated with dignity and respect. 

Myth #4: Learning disability nursing staff are not trained to deal with complex medical needs. 
This is simply not true. Learning disability nursing staff are trained to deal with the complex medical needs of people with learning disabilities. 98% of people with learning disabilities have two or more health needs, and some people with profound and multiple disabilities may need complex nursing interventions at all times. We are trained to provide a wide range of medical interventions, from administering medication to managing complex health conditions. 

Myth #5: There is no future for learning disability nursing.
This is a pertinent one, as our History of Learning Disability Nursing exhibition opens in Scotland. Our future has been questioned throughout our history. Our culture and the lives of people with learning disabilities have certainly changed over these times too. Some people with learning disabilities have very complex needs and the role of the learning disability nurse and learning disability services will always be needed. Yet today, unlike in our history, we are seeing learning disability nursing staff working in all settings across health, social care, and education. As people with learning disabilities have become more integrated in society so have learning disability nursing staff. The challenge for our future is defining our roles and career pathways as our society and culture changes – and we are up for the challenge!  

This week marks Learning Disability Week in England, Northern Ireland and Wales; Scotland celebrated in early May, making this very much a UK-wide celebration of our nursing specialism. 

Learning disability nurses are highly trained and skilled professionals and we play a crucial role in supporting people with learning disabilities. We are compassionate, dedicated, and committed to providing the best possible care to our patients. It's time to bust these myths, and for the amazing work that all learning disability nursing staff do to be valued and acknowledged. 

Jonathan Beebee

Jonathan Beebee

Professional Lead for neuroscience and Professional Lead for learning disability nursing

Chief Enablement Officer for PBS4 providing bespoke social care solutions for people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour. Positive Behaviour Support expert. 

Page last updated - 19/06/2023