A leading academic and educator in learning disability nursing has renewed calls for student nurses to be paid a living wage while on placement to improve recruitment problems.
Trish Griffin’s comments come as new figures reveal the number of learning disability nurses working in the UK is continuing to fall year-on-year despite rises in other fields.
By the end of September 2018, 17,142 learning disability nurses were registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council – a drop of more than 9% since 2013.
Professor Griffin, associate professor and professional lead for learning disability nursing at Kingston and St George’s universities in London, said: “I think we should consider strongly a living wage when students are on placement because that’s when they are part of the workforce.”
She said some nursing students were having to juggle a job on the side with their studies and clinical placements due to concerns about money.
Offering students an income during the practical part of their studies would make students feel like a valued member of the team and allow them to focus on learning practice, said Professor Griffin.
“It makes students feel part of the workforce. I think that would really help,” she told Nursing Times.
“I think we should consider strongly a living wage when students are on placement”
She also suggested that tariffs paid to providers during placements could be paid directly to the student instead.
The case to give student nurses a wage during their placements has been forward before.
A petition making the same plea was launched by Bristol student nurse John Worth in July and at the time of writing had received 471,377 signatures.
Professor Griffin was speaking during the launch of a new network for professionals who support people with learning disabilities to share good ideas and find solutions to common challenges, called the Greater London Community of Practice.
She was joined at the event by her colleague Daniel Marsden, a senior lecturer in learning disability nursing at Kingston and St George’s and a learning disability nurse with 20 years’ clinical experience.
In August 2017, nursing students in England were no longer able to receive a bursary to study and were instead required to take out a loan due to reforms by the government.
Mr Marsden said learning disability nursing had been “disproportionally hit” by the removal of the bursary, because students who went into the field tended to be older and therefore more debt adverse.
He added that universities in the south of England were struggling to recruit more than those in the north because of the higher cost of living.
“While there’s a retained commitment to learning disability nursing from our universities on the whole, we are going to continue to be hit by the fact that many of our students are mature and so already might have dependence and a mortgage and can’t afford to make that step into courses,” he said.
A survey carried out by the Council of Deans of Health earlier this year found that almost half of universities that taught pre-registration learning disability nursing had discussed terminating the courses due to student recruitment difficulties.
- University cancels learning disability course in wake of bursary removal
- Half of learning disability nursing courses ‘considering closure’
- Concern for learning disability nursing as some courses ‘less than half full’
Mr Marsden said he was “realistic” and did not expect Labour to immediately reinvigorate bursaries if the party got into power, as has been pledged.
Nevertheless, Mr Marsden said a “solution does need to be found” and called on leaders to do more to help reverse the worrying trends seen in learning disability nursing.
“We have got to look at other adjustments [Health Education England] and the government might be able to make particularly for learning disability nursing to ensure that professionals that are able to challenge the health inequalities that Marmot talked about in the report on Monday are in place,” he said, referring to A Fair, Supportive Society, which was led by Professor Sir Michael Marmot at University College London’s Institute of Health Equity.
The document showed two out of every five children with a learning disability remained undiagnosed and that adults with learning disabilities die 15-20 years sooner on average than the general population, resulting in 1,200 premature deaths each year.