Learning Disability Services: Keeping staff who care

The news that there will be extra funding for learning disability nursing apprenticeships is obviously very welcome to the sector, which has struggled with falling numbers of registered nurses over the last five years.

When a cohort of new nurses comes through, we need to make sure that they want to stay in the NHS. Alongside recruitment and training, staff retention continues to be a challenge in many areas.

Learning disability nurses care passionately about the people they support but all too often it seems that the rest of the system cares less. A prime example of this was when deeply disturbing evidence emerged during the pandemic of an increase in the number of DNR orders being unlawfully put on patients with a learning disability. More generally, health and care services are often not accessible enough to people with a learning disability resulting in small, specialist learning disability teams struggling to meet complex needs without adequate support from mainstream services. In far too many instances, this has meant watching their patients suffer with avoidable health conditions and can even lead to premature death.

This is clearly not acceptable for patients and can severely affect the staff working with them. Transformation of learning disability services is overdue and the current drive towards increased system integration makes this absolutely the right time to do it.

Learning disability services need to be enhanced by the whole range of health and care services to collectively support everyone with a learning disability. This means increasing staff skills and awareness across the system as well as supporting primary and secondary care settings to make ‘reasonable adjustments’. It also means going beyond improving provision of learning disability health checks to ensure that people benefit from all health initiatives including screening and immunisation programmes. It means changing cultures so that people with a learning disability receive the same standard of physical healthcare as everyone else.

That is the kind of environment that will attract and retain people who are passionate about caring for those with learning disabilities.

Contact Marie Watkins on marie.watkins@attain.co.uk if you would like to discuss how Attain can support transformation across systems to improve care and support for people with a learning disability.

More about our Mental Health & Learning Disability Expertise