Learning disability nurses fear for the safety of their patients because of cuts to services, reveals a new survey by the Royal College of Nursing.
The poll of 1,100 learning disability nursing staff, carried out in May this year, found more than half – 53% – were worried about patient safety.
Seventy-one per cent of respondents said they had witnessed cuts to learning disability services and almost all – 95% – said there were not enough services in the community to support people with learning disabilities.
“There is clearly a shortage in this specialist branch of nursing and the consequences are all too plain to see”
Sixty-four per cent reported people with learning disabilities were often in hospital longer than necessary.
When asked to identify the main issues getting in the way of providing good care, survey respondents said lack of funding was the number one issue, followed by shortages of learning disability nurses and then lack of community services.
Official figures show learning disability services across the UK have lost more than a fifth of nursing posts since 2010 – a loss of more than 1,600 nursing jobs.
Forty-five per cent of nurses responding to the RCN survey said they had seen drops in staffing levels and just 10% said they always had enough time to deliver the right levels of care to patients.
Staff themselves have been hit by cuts with almost a quarter – 23% – saying they had seen cuts to pay and 35% reported down-banding of nursing roles where they worked. Meanwhile, 45% said conditions and services had got worse in recent years.
RCN general secretary and chief executive Peter Carter called for swift action from government and more investment in learning disability nursing and services.
“When patient safety is at risk, action needs to be taken immediately,” he said. “Learning disability nurses are specialists in what they do yet there has been a greater reduction in this branch of nursing that in any other area of the workforce.
“There is clearly a shortage in this specialist branch of nursing and the consequences are all too plain to see,” he said.
“It’s absolutely essential that people with learning disabilities have access to care and support that allows them to live safely within the community but there just aren’t enough services to make this a reality,” he added.