hospitalThe learning disability nursing workforce has fallen by a third – 1,700 posts – since 2010, a new report has found.

More worryingly, a third of those posts cut are senior nurses, according to the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) report, Connect for Change: an update on learning disability services in England.

In addition, learning disability student nurse training places have also been slashed, falling by 30% in the past decade. There are now fewer learning disability nursing students in training than ever before; in 2016/17 learning disability nursing is the only field of nursing education where, despite a national shortage of nurses, the number of student places fell even lower than last year. The report warns that the move to student loans for nursing courses could impact even further on the creation of a new generation of nurse specialists in this area.

RCN chief executive and general secretary, Janet Davies, said: “Learning disability nurses are specialists in what they do, yet there has been a greater reduction in this branch of nursing than in any other area of the workforce and the consequences for the people they are meant to be supporting are all too plain to see.

“It’s absolutely essential that people with learning disabilities have access to the care and support that allows them to live safely within the community but this won’t be a reality until the ambition for community provision is matched with the right number of nurses to provide that vital support."

Davies also noted that the number of people inappropriately housed in hospitals remains high – and indeed increased last year – despite government pledges to move them all back into the community by July 2014.

“The pace of change has been disappointingly slow, with too many people stuck in institutions when they should be near their families in more appropriate community settings,” she said. "The message we’re getting from our members is that when it comes to learning disability services, things have got worse, not better.

“This is not what was promised after Winterbourne View.”

The report makes several key workforce recommendations, including:

Every acute hospital should employ at least one learning disability liaison nurse. By 2020/21 all acute hospitals should have 24-hour learning disability liaison nurse cover

Up-skill all general nursing staff to care for those with learning disabilities and/or autism, or those who display behaviour that challenges

An increase in the number of learning disability student nurse training places to grow an appropriately skilled workforce.

In addition, the report calls for quality community services to be commissioned to support the transition from inpatient care to more independent living and positive behaviour support to be embedded across organisations and training to be provided to those who may be caring for someone who presents behaviour that challenges.

“The Transforming Care work being done by NHS England setting out a blueprint on how to shift care from hospitals into the community is a positive initiative, but for it to succeed there must be enough of the right staff in the right places,” said Davies. 

“Only a solid strategy that brings together service provision with workforce planning will make the sincere ambition of improving the lives of people with learning disabilities and their families a reality.  

“They have waited long enough – it’s now time for action.”

To read the full RCN report, click here