Problems attracting people into learning disability nursing training have “come to a head” and there is now a risk there will be an insufficient number of new nurses working in this field in the future, the national workforce body has said.
It is thought that the recent switch from bursaries to loans for student nurses has caused the number of people applying to undergraduate learning disability nursing courses to drop, which has exacerbated the ongoing issue.
“There is a risk that there will be an insufficient supply of new learning disability nurses”
HEE board papers
At a Health Education England board meeting on Tuesday in London, it was noted that the problems came at the same time as major changes to the way learning disability care was being provided.
NHS England is in the middle of closing inpatient facilities for people with learning disabilities across the country so that care is provided in the community in the future. It is part of its national Transforming Care programme, which is due to be completed by 2019, and was sparked by the Winterbourne View case.
- Learning disability inpatient beds to be slashed by 50%
- Learning disability ward closures to begin in two regions
- Progress ‘too slow’ in learning disability care transformation
HEE’s director of nursing, Professor Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, who is also the body’s interim regional director for London and the South East, told the board meeting that work was underway to tackle the recruitment problems.
She suggested that new fast-track two-year courses might be a more successful way of attracting people into learning disability nursing, rather than the traditional three-year undergraduate degree.
This new type of course is currently being used as part of the Nurse First programme, set up this year by NHS to attract “high achiever” graduates from other subject areas into nursing.
“What we’re finding is all this focus on the undergraduate three-year BSc route for this type of programme is probably not [the most successful] for attracting the right people into it,” said Professor Bayliss-Pratt.
“When we put the spotlight on the Nurse First postgraduate pre-registration initiative, we’ve found we’ve had lots of interest across universities that provide this programme for people to go into learning disability nursing,” she told the meeting.
“We’ve had a number of universities saying if we could deliver the post graduate pre-registration route, then we’ve got people knocking at our door for next September,” she said.
“Without a doubt the Transforming Care programme is high risk because of the pace”
Non-executive board member Mary Elford asked whether HEE could bring in any changes quickly enough to ensure there were enough learning disability nurses to support the movement of care into the community.
Professor Bayliss-Pratt said: “Without a doubt the Transforming Care programme is high risk because of the pace, and there are lots of hidden issues that are just surfacing as a result of getting to the situation we are in with the inpatient beds we’ve got.
“The workforce needs to move very quickly to sustain the new model of care,” added Professor Bayliss-Pratt.
Earlier on in the meeting, she told the board that problems recruiting onto learning disability nursing courses had existed for many years, but that the issue had “come to a head over the last six months”.
Senior HCA ‘bridging’ role will be piloted next year
Board papers reveal that that HEE has assessed the situation as being at the highest risk level among its work programmes.
In its latest board papers, HEE stated: “According to post comprehensive spending review information received from UCAS and other sources, there is a risk that there will be an insufficient supply of new learning disability nurses available to the system.”
The papers indicate the Nurse First programme, a social media campaign in the North East, and “implementing a small number of pre-registration training programmes” would all help to stop the problem from getting worse.
As part of the longer-term work being led by Professor Bayliss-Pratt, the papers said that as well as looking at fast-track courses, new roles were being explored and the possibility of a national recruitment campaign was being considered.
Last week, it emerged that London South Bank University had cancelled its undergraduate learning disabilty nursing course this year, after it saw applications to the programme drop by 75%.
In a follow-up statement, Professor Bayliss-Pratt said: “We are in the process of setting up the task and finish group to fully understand the reasons behind the drop in the number of applicants and find solutions to tackle this important issue.
“The traditional degree route is not attracting enough applications so we need to look at alternatives,” she told Nursing Times.
“The anecdotal evidence we have which was highlighted at our recent board is that there is interest from universities and applicants in postgraduate programmes that will fast track high achievers to registered graduate nursing positions,” she noted.
“We will explore nursing apprenticeships and other innovative ways of attracting people into this rewarding area of work,” she said. “Our priority now is to take this work forward as quickly as possible to help meet this challenge and make sure there are enough learning disability nurses coming through the system.”