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Shortage of learning disability nurses could put lives at risk

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The number of learning disability nurses The number of learning disability nurses has barely grown

A lack of learning disability specialist nurses working in the NHS could endanger patients, a new report by the RCN has said.

According to the report, Connecting for Change, the number of learning disability nurses working in NHS hospital and community services in England has risen by just 22 in three years. In 2018, the number hit a record low of 3,192 – a fall of 40% in less than a decade.

Since then, it has risen to 3,214 – an increase of just 22 full-time equivalent posts in the NHS.

Read more: RCN announces new President

‘It’s scandalous that in this day and age people with learning disabilities are still dying on average 25 years sooner than the general population. Specialist care can transform their lives,’ said Jonathan Beebee, RCN Professional Lead for Learning Disability Nursing.

‘Investment is much needed to encourage people to train as a nurse and take the career path into learning disability nursing.’

There are only about 17,000 learning disability specialist nurses on the NMC register in the UK, despite warnings from experts that the workforce requires urgent growth.

Read more: RCN calls for end to risky recruitment practices

People with learning disabilities are more likely to have serious health conditions, like congenital heart disease or respiratory illnesses. England’s chief nurse Ruth May recently admitted numbers of learning disability nurses were not growing fast enough.

‘Learning disability nursing is incredibly rewarding but we struggle to recruit, and this is partly due to lack of recognition and identity for what learning disability nurses offer,’ added Mr Beebee.

‘The RCN has a key role to play in encouraging more students and newly qualified nurses to specialise in this area.’

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