There will be “more Castlebecks” unless action is taken to halt the “mass exodus” of learning disability nurses, the author of a government commissioned report has warned.
Three homes run by private residential care provider Castlebeck have so far been closed since a Care Quality Commission investigation following BBC Panorama’s exposure of abuse at its Winterborne View home in Bristol.
The scandal has raised concerns about the quality of learning disability nursing and leadership in the specialty.
But Professor Bob Gates, academic and professional lead for learning disability nursing at the University of Hertfordshire, has warned that pressure on the speciality could worsen still further unless action is taken to address current workforce trends.
He submitted a report in July to the DH’s nursing and midwifery professional advisory board on the future of the learning disability nursing workforce.
Speaking to Nursing Times, he said “more and more people will need specialised inpatient services”, as survival rates continue to increase, but “the number of learning disability nurses has been spiralling downwards”.
He said a “massive exodus” of nurses – who are allowed to retire earlier under mental health officer rules – was imminent across the sector, while the number of training places has been steadily falling.
Professor Gates added that workforce planning was complicated by a lack of accurate data for the private and independent sector, where the majority of learning disability nurses work.
He said: “Both learning disability clients and staff have dropped off the agenda. We have a responsibility not only to people with learning disabilities, but for the people who support them.
“Unless, across agencies and statutory bodies, people begin to try and understand the complexity of service provision we now have”, and work to reverse current workforce trends, “we will have more Castlebecks”, he said.
Haringey Learning Disabilities Team nurse consultant Gwen Moulster said: “Workforce is the real issue. We need to make sure we train enough nurses to meet the needs.”
She said the problem was being exacerbated by registered learning disability nurses moving out of frontline settings and into management.
Referring to the Winterbourne View case, she said: “Where was the nurse leadership there?
“You have nurses becoming managers so they can’t show clinical leadership. It is systemic failure because you had no leadership.”