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‘Cash must not dictate the future of such a vital specialty’

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Learning disability nurses are a pretty vocal bunch. They have to be. Often regarded as the Cinderellas of the profession, they have learnt to stand up for their service users and themselves. And they’re pretty good at it.

The winners of our Nursing Times Awards Learning Disability Nursing category were in the audience at a conference I chaired last month at James Paget University Hospitals Trust. One of them was Rebecca Crossley, who managed to talk about her specialty in most of the event’s question-time slots. She was concerned about the drop the number of learning disability nursing courses being run and what this might mean for the profession.

She’s right to be anxious. As the unions and several other pundits predicted before the removal of the bursary, it was learning disability nursing that would particularly suffer if students had to fund themselves through training.

At the end of last year, the University of Hertfordshire closed its course, and it looks likely that London South Bank University will follow suit. Universities are businesses and cannot afford to fulfil a course that very few students are funding through tuition fees. 

But we should not forget that there is no shortage of students wanting to become learning disability nurses – only that there is a shortage of students who can afford to pay to do so.

“If too few of our nursing workforce have the skills to do that, the wellbeing of this group will be at risk”

The government must recognise that if learning disability nursing is to survive, it needs to be singled out for special treatment to ensure a pipeline of nurses is funded and delivered to provide this care. Rebecca Chester, chair of the UK Learning Disability Consultant Nurse Network, highlights this in this month’s issue.

Learning disability nurses stand up for those who are most in need of an advocate to challenge and support in equal measure. With the services of these nurses, a group that is marginalised by our society can thrive. But if too few of our nursing workforce have the skills to do that, the wellbeing of this group will be at risk. It’s a tragedy if we allow finances to dictate the future of such an important part of the nursing profession and the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society.

The Nursing Times Workforce Summit and Awards on 4 October will debate and discuss the current workforce challenges for the profession. Find full details of the event at workforce.nursingtimes.net

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