Fall in numbers of NHS learning disabilities nurses in England raises concerns


Earlier this year, we posted about the report of the Modernising Learning Disability Nursing Review Group, which explored ways in which access to expert learning disabilities nurses could be assured across the UK. There were a number of recommendations for action and the a UK-wide Steering Group was to be set up to support a programme of work.

This study from the team at Improving Health and Lives public health observatory however raises some concerns about whether workforce numbers will be sufficiently robust to deliver the strategy.

The researchers looked a data from NHS workforce statistics to enable them to report on trends in the number of learning disability nurses working in the English NHS.

They looked at figures for 2008 to 2011, and found a decline of 23% in the number of whole time equivalent learning disability nurses employed by the NHS.

Clearly there has been a significant reduction in the number of NHS inpatient beds for people with learning disabilities which may account for this overall decline. However, they also found that there was a decline in numbers in community nurses which was unevenly spread across the English regions which they believe is harder to explain by this reduction in beds.

The authors point out that learning disability nurses are a crucial part of modern community based learning disability services, and the report of the UK Modernising Learning Disabilities Nursing group set out a challenging future for them with a number of key roles.

The researchers suggest that further work therefore is needed to better understand the reasons behind their current distribution in different sectors to inform workforce planning and training plans.

Patterns of decline in numbers of learning disability nurses employed by the English National Health Service, Glover G & Emerson E in Tizard Learning Disability Review, 17, 4, 194 – 198

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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