A 40% drop in specialist nurses may leave learning disability care returning to ‘Victorian’ institutions, warn the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
Figures released by NHS Digital show that learning disability nurse numbers have fallen from 5,368 to 3,247 between May 2010 and April 2018.
‘The nursing shortage in England is harming some of the most vulnerable members of society – those with learning disabilities already face a lower life expectancy and poorer health outcomes than the general population, and a lack of specialist knowledge will make matters worse,’ said Donna Kinnair, director of nursing, policy and practice at the RCN.
‘Without the specialist support provided by registered nurses, more patients may end up in institutions, away from their families and friends and shut off from society – this bleak Victorian image is not what care should look like in the 21st Century.’
Staff shortages are prevalent across the nursing profession, with approximately 36,000 unfilled posts currently in the NHS.
Universities are facing challenges recruiting students since the nursing bursary was removed, particularly for mature students who are more likely to train in learning disability or mental health nursing – there has been a 16% drop in students over 25 years old in the past year and a total decline of 40% since June 2016.
Postgraduate funding was also removed in May this year and despite it being the fastest way to qualify as a nurse, students will only be offered a one-off payment called ‘golden hellos’ of £10,000.
A national survey carried out by the Council of Deans for Health found that 46% of institutions have discussed discontinuing their respective learning disability nursing courses this September.
‘Learning Disability nurses are very important. If you are unwell and have something seriously wrong with you, the Learning Disability nurse can explain everything clearly. They can make things more comfortable for your family too,’ said Jonathan Shaw, a member of Mencap, a learning disability steering group, and part of their Treat Me Well campaign. ‘Learning Disability nurses are an important way for hospitals to make sure people with a learning disability don't die avoidably. It is worrying that these universities are stopping the course. I feel like more people should be getting this training, not less!’