Number of NHS learning disability nurses plummets in last decade

21 Jun 2019

RCN insists learning disability nursing needs urgent investment to attract more staff to the specialty.

Man with learning disability laughing with carer

New RCN analysis shows the number of learning disability (LD) nurses in NHS inpatient and secure units has dropped by almost 60% in 10 years.

Analysis of official NHS workforce data shows that since 2009:

  • the NHS in England has lost 2,309 LD nurses
  • there are 1,656 fewer LD nurses working in inpatient and secure services
  • the number of LD nurses employed to work in the homes of clients has decreased by a quarter.

LD nursing is a unique strand of nursing that requires specialist skills and tailored education and training.

LD nurses develop comprehensive care plans, educate and support carers, and safeguard and protect the rights of people with learning disabilities.

The analysis comes as learning disability nurses from across the country gather at a House of Lords reception to mark 100 years since the first “mental deficiency nurses” were registered in England.

RCN Professional Lead for Learning Disabilities Ann Norman said: “The standard of care we provide for people with learning disabilities and difficulties has come a long way since 1919, but we can’t rest on our laurels.

"In the 20th century, there was a common perception that all we could do for people with intellectual disabilities was take them out of society for their own good. Now, thanks to LD nurses with the right skills, knowledge and experience, people can usually receive the care they need in their community. But this progress won’t be sustained unless we tackle the current staffing crisis.

“As alarming as the staffing figures are, it's equally perplexing that there’s no register to tell us whether LD 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 frontline and the legislation and investment to see it through."

Hosted by Baroness Hollins, the parliamentary event convenes a number of groups which support and deliver LD nursing to celebrate the great strides made since 1919.

Jonathan Beebee, a learning disability nurse in Southampton and RCN Learning Disability Forum committee member, is representing the RCN at the event. He said: “Many of those who apply to become LD 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. It’s a shame that funding shortages are stopping people pursuing this inspiring career that sees 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. We need more nurses to help these people to live fulfilling and independent lives.”

Page last updated - 18/11/2019