The Future of Learning Disability Nursing

Our EBN Blog Series on Learning Disability Nursing continues this today as Learning Disability Nurse Consultant, Jonathan Bee, considers the future of learning disability nursing.  In case you missed out, check out our learning disability blog that was published on Monday by Professor Ruth Northway HERE


The Future for Learning Disability Nursing

On the 30th October NHS England revealed its plans to reduce learning disability inpatient beds by 50%. This is good news for people with learning disabilities, so long as the community service failures that lead to admission can be addressed. But is it good news for Learning Disability Nurses? Is it news at all? This has been described previously in the Jay Report in 1979, in Valuing People in 2001, and probably in many documents in between. The number of learning disability inpatient beds has reduced by 90% since the 1980s. We also know the number of learning disability nurses have steadily declined over the years.

The specialist skills Learning Disability Nurses bring can be easily overlooked, particularly when what we do can be difficult to describe. Things like helping a person to engage, increasing independence in getting dressed, identifying an unmet health need, or helping someone try something new for the first time might not sound like a specialist nursing skill. Particularly as the complexities of need for people with learning disabilities have been historically hidden behind closed doors so out of sight and out of mind for most people.

As learning disability nurses we are the only profession specifically trained in the health and social care needs of people with learning disabilities. We already work in a huge variety of settings using our skills to enable people with learning disabilities to have happier, healthier lives. This is a challenging time for us, but it isn’t the first challenge we have faced and it won’t be the last. We have a good track record in responding to these challenges, and I have two thoughts for how nurses need to face the challenges ahead of us.

1 – Find a model that embraces all learning disability nurses, and the wider learning disability community

Mental health practice has benefitted greatly from the Recovery model. It helps people receiving mental health services and their families understand what to expect, it gives direction for mental health nurses and other professionals, guides training, and guides leadership. We don’t want people to recover from their learning disabilities. We want to enable people to be as independent as they can, with as much support as they need to achieve this. Enablement is what unites us, so we should champion an Enablement model. This would build on the strengths of person centred planning, Active Support, Positive Behaviour Support, and many other approaches used in learning disability practice.

2 – Be entrepreneurial

Don’t wait for the next opportunity to come to you, create it. Learning disability nurses have a lot of transferable skills that other people want. Think about where there is a gap in your area and think how you can fill it. There are many nurse entrepreneurs out there doing this already. Many will willingly share their experiences and advice to support you to set up what you want to do. Speak to services that don’t employ learning disability nurses about what you can offer them. Ask if they have heard of the great Enablement work learning disability nurses have pioneered!

Learning disability nurses continue to have the skills, and support for people with learning disabilities will continue to benefit from learning disability nursing input. So lets make sure they know what we can offer, and that we are here to help.

Jonathan Beebee

Nurse Consultant


Check out EBN’s own top 5 recommended resources on Learning Disability below:

  1. Chue, P. (2014) ‘In adults with intellectual disability, discontinuation of antipsychotics is associated with reduction in weight, BMI, waist circumference and blood pressure’, Evidence-Based Nursing, 17, (3), pp. 89
  2. Bressington, D. and Tong-Chien, W. (2015) ‘Case study: Guidelines improve nurses’ knowledge and confidence in diagnosis of anxiety and challenging behaviours in people with intellectual disabilities’, Evidence-Based Nursing, Published Ahead of Print doi:10.1136/eb-2015-102168
  3. EBN Podcast with Professor Chue on intellectual disability and antipsychotic medication.
  4. Balandin, S. (2008) ‘Inpatients with cerebral palsy and complex communication needs identified barriers to communicating with nurses’, Evidence-Based Nursing, 11, (1), pp. 30.
  5. EBN Guest Blog by Carole Beighton on Parenting Children with Intellectual Disabilities

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