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Concern for learning disability nursing as some courses ‘less than half full’

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Serious concerns about the future of learning disability nursing programmes in England have been raised, as reports have emerged of some universities filling less than half of their course places this year.

The Council of Deans of Health, which represents UK university nursing departments, convened a meeting between universities and national bodies yesterday to discuss the issue.

“The decline in applications is anecdotally associated with a particular fall in applications from mature students”

Council of Deans report 

A report on the meeting, seen by Nursing Times, said that while learning disability nursing courses have faced recruitment challenges for many years, application rates have become much worse in 2017 following the removal of bursaries.

At some universities, the fall in applications has been so great it has threatened the viability of the course in future years. Others have decided not to take on a student cohort in spring 2018 to bolster autumn recruitment.

The Council of Deans confirmed to Nursing Times that some universities had seen a more than 60% decline in the number applications this year, compared with 2016.

In addition, despite concerted recruitment efforts, when courses started in September this year some had less than half the number of students universities had planned for, said the Council of Deans.

“The profession has a low profile with very little understanding about the varied roles that learning disability nurses play”

Council of Deans report 

“The decline in applications is anecdotally associated with a particular fall in applications from mature students with some education providers reporting a clear shift to a younger cohort this year,” said the report on the meeting, which was attended by representatives from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, NHS England and Health Education England.

Universities said a poor understanding about learning disability nursing was a major factor and that few people had heard of this field of work.

“The profession has a low profile with very little understanding about the varied roles that learning disability nurses play in the health, education and social care system,” said the report.

Those attending the meeting agreed a high-profile national recruitment campaign, including targeting colleges and schools, was needed.

“The profile of learning disability nursing should be heightened to safeguard the future of this profession”

Council of Deans report

“Universities cannot do this alone and require support from national bodies including HEFCE and Health Education England. The campaign should profile the varied work of learning disability nurses,” said the report.

A number of other actions were also called for, including an expansion of postgraduate pre-registration programmes and greater investment in continuing professional development.

Jackie Kelly, dean of the school of health and social work at the University of Hertfordshire, who led the meeting yesterday, said: “We need to ensure that the unique contribution this field of nursing makes to the health and social care sector and to the health outcomes and the lives of people with learning disabilities is recognised.”

“The profile of learning disability nursing should be heightened to safeguard the future of this profession,” she added.

Earlier this year Nursing Times reported that London South Bank University had cancelled its undergraduate learning disability nursing course for 2017 after it saw a 75% decline in applications.

The problems attracting people into learning disability nursing training were also raised at a recent HEE board meeting.

HEE’s director of nursing, Professor Lisa Bayliss-Pratt told the meeting the recruitment challenges had “come to a head” during a discussion on board papers that revealed there was a risk there would be an insufficient number of new nurses working in this field in the future.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • You attract flies with honey. Try attracting people with money. Look at the fierce competition for medical and law school. I rest my case. To put it bluntly, it's the economy, stupid.

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