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Rebuilding the learning disability workforce is crucial to end appalling injustice

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As a health journalist, grappling with statistics is a routine part of my job.

Be it around workforce or performance, suffice to say in the current climate the data usually doesn’t make for a positive headline.

The real trick though when writing these stories is digging below the cold, hard facts and finding the human element underneath.

For every missed target, there may be a patient who has suffered for longer than they need to, or a nurse who has had to work through their break or go home in tears.

“The burning injustice was clear”

But this week I was given a figure that needed no unpicking – the burning injustice was clear: three people with a learning disability die avoidably each day in NHS hospitals.

Just the day before I had learnt that the number of learning disability nurses registered to work in the UK has continued to fall year on year to hit a new low of 17,142.

How does that add up?

The health inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities is a damming indictment on our society, but the good news is there are passionate people out there doing something about it.

Another thing I did this week was attend the launch of the Greater London Learning Disability Community of Practice – a new network set up by professionals who work with people with learning disabilities and have decided to collaborate to share good practice and use their collective experience to come up with positive solutions to common challenges.

“Let’s hope we can rebuild the learning disability nurse workforce”

The group is being led by Jim Blair, an experienced learning disability nurse whose dedication to correcting some of these injustices is unwavering and unstoppable.

Among those supporting the group is Paul Richards, a support worker who has created a buddy scheme to help people with learning disabilities get out into their community and make friends, and Yvonne Newbold, a parent who has bravely spoken out about her child’s violence towards her to reduce the stigma for others.

But the group does not just include professionals and family members – crucially, people with learning disabilities themselves are involved, including Richard Keagan-Bull, who co-chaired the launch with Jim.

His final comments to close the day really struck me: “If you have a learning disability it won’t go away but the support you have helps you keep safe and out of hospital.”

Let’s hope we can rebuild the learning disability nurse workforce to make this happen. Having a learning disability should not make hospital admission more dangerous than it is for everyone else.

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