Accessibility Links
Cookies on our website
By continuing to use this website we will assume you are happy to receive cookies as outlined in our cookie policy
Accept Policy

Improving care for people with learning disabilities

With new standards recently issued by NHS Improvement, how can nurses be supported to improve care for those with learning disabilities?

In February this year, a YouGov survey of healthcare professionals revealed that well over a third thought that patients with a learning disability received an inferior quality of healthcare to those without a learning disability. Almost half of respondents thought that lack of training for nurses and other healthcare staff was contributing to avoidable deaths amongst people with learning disabilities.

Now NHS Improvement has published new standards to help NHS trusts measure the quality of care they provide to people with learning disabilities. One of the four standards focuses on the workforce and the importance of responding to the challenge of a growing shortage of specialist practitioners, such as learning disability nurses.

According to Nursing Times, in the five years up to 2017 the number of learning disability nurses working in the NHS decreased by over 1,000. In March 2017, 16% of learning disability nursing posts were unfilled.

The solution is not just to recruit more specialist learning disability nurses. It's also important to give other nurses training and personal development opportunities to improve their skills in providing appropriate care to patients with learning disabilities.

"Nursing staff want to be able to deliver the best care to every patient," said Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Chief Executive Janet Davies. "But they need the right education to do that. Providers and commissioners of healthcare must offer every member of the nursing team training in how to meet the needs of people with learning disabilities."

One of the key priorities is for non-specialist nurses to be trained to interact more positively with vulnerable patients and understand their needs. For example, they are more likely to be underweight, have limited mobility and struggle with non-verbal communication. Even reading a hospital menu may be a challenge. They may also find it difficult to describe their symptoms or respond to questioning.

Some NHS trusts have seen the value of 'buddying' nurses with experienced disability specialists. For example, at Northampton Hospital, learning disability nurse Debbie Wigley is paired with project worker Paul Blake, who has a learning disability himself. As well as working closely with Debbie on a variety of day-to-day tasks, Paul also facilitates learning disability training for Debbie and other staff. In an interview with Nursing Times, Debbie commented, "This training isn't mandatory but we get a great uptake, with lots of staff keen to learn and know more about learning disability."

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has issued a set of Field Specific Competencies for Learning Disabilities Nursing, available here.
Email a friend

Meet the Head of Healthcare

Add new comment
ISO Logo   REC Member Logo Investors in People Logo CHAS Logo

© 2015 Sanctuary Personnel Limited, registered in England (No. 05972910). All Rights Reserved.
15 Friars Street, Ipswich IP1 1TD.