The RCN’s analysis of NHS workforce data has revealed the extent of the reduction in the number of learning disability nurses across NHS inpatient and secure units.
“Thanks to learning disability nurses with the right skills, knowledge and experience, people can now usually receive the care they need”
According to the college, the number of learning disability nurses working for NHS England has dropped by 2,309 nurses since September 2009 when there were over 5,500 working in the sector.
Figures show that there are now only 3,244 learning disability nurses employed by the health service since February this year.
The RCN also uncovered that inpatient and secure services have “borne the brunt” of these changes. It noted that in February 2019, there were only 1,292 learning disability nurses in the specialty, compared to 2,948 in 2009.
However, the college also found that, despite a shift towards providing care in the community, the number of nurses employed to work in the homes of patients and their families decreased by a quarter in 10 years.
“People with learning disabilities still face many inequalities including a shorter average life expectancy and poorer-than-average health outcomes”
RCN professional lead for learning disabilities, Anne 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,” she said.
“Now, thanks to learning disability nurses with the right skills, knowledge and experience, people can now usually receive the care they need in their community,” she said. “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 learning disability nurses who quit the NHS are going to work for contracted providers or leaving the profession altogether,” said Ms Norman.
“We need more nurses to help these people to live fulfilling and independent lives”
“This is why it’s time for a properly-resourced staffing plan based on clear evidence from the front line and the legislation and investment to see it through,” she added.
The RCN’s call comes as learning disability nurses across the country gather at a parliamentary reception at the House of Lords today to mark 100 years since the first learning disability nurses were registered in England.
The event brings together a number of groups which support and deliver learning disabilities nursing to celebrate the great strides made since 1919.
One learning disability nurse in Southampton, Jonathan Beebee, who is also a RCN learning disability forum committee member, is representing the college at the event.
Mr Beebee said: “Many of those who apply to become learning disability 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, and then take on the debt of a loan.
“It’s a shame that funding shortages are stopping people pursuing this inspiring career that see nurses like me using our specialist knowledge to turn lives around,” he said.
“People with learning disabilities still face many inequalities including a shorter average life expectancy and poorer-than-average health outcomes, and we need more nurses to help these people to live fulfilling and independent lives,” he added.
The celebration comes during Learning Disability Awareness Week 2019. Nurses from around the country have been carrying out activities and events to encourage this year’s theme of “sport and inclusion”.