This post is by Fiona Rich, senior Lecturer in Learning Disability Nursing at Birmingham City University.
I am disappointed to learn that our first year student nurses are yet again being told that there are no jobs available for learning disability nurses, because in fact there are many vacancies for learning disability nurses – just Google ‘Learning Disability Nursing Vacancies’ and see for yourself.
The NMC have recently re-written competencies for entry into Learning Disability Nursing… they would not have done so if the role was going to be obsolete. In addition, this university alone was commissioned for 35 Learning Disability Degree students by the Strategic Health Authority for our next intake… again, they would not spend money training student nurses if they intended to make the role obsolete. The Strategic Health Authority only commission student places for the jobs available within the NHS, but only 45% of learning disability nurses work in the NHS – the other 55% work in the private, voluntary and independent sector. This means that there is actually a shortfall of 55% of learning disability nurses to meet the demands throughout the UK.
All of our students get jobs when they qualify – whether it is in the NHS or other sectors is irrelevant as they still provide the skills needed to support this vulnerable group of people which is growing in demand not decreasing. Many people with learning disabilities are living to an older age and therefore have very specific needs. In addition, people with LD tend to acquire the problems associated with older adults (eg Alzheimer’s, Dementia, physical disorders and diseases such as sensory defects, cancer, diabetes, respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses) at a much earlier age than the general population so there is a growing need for very specialist learning disability nurses.
Sadly, I have been hearing this misinformed argument about the future of learning disability nursing for decades but there is still a demand for such a role and it grieves me to see genuinely dedicated learning disability nurses dissuaded from qualifying in this branch. I would urge all first year learning disability nursing students to think carefully about who will support this vulnerable group of people if there were no learning disability nurses in the future because the very specific needs of individuals with learning disabilities are not going away.