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'We must develop leaders in learning disability nursing'


Scotland’s CNO Ros Moore explains the steps that need to be taken to ensure a strong learning disability nursing workforce

The launch of the Strengthening the Commitment report last month was a lively event involving learning disability professionals from all sectors across the UK as well as, crucially, people with learning disabilities, their families and carers.

The review was initiated by the UK’s four chief nursing officers and placed a spotlight on the fact that, over the last three decades, the learning disability nursing workforce has become smaller and more widely distributed across the health and social care sector. At the same time, the number of people with learning disabilities is growing as is the complexity of health problems experienced.

During the review we found lots to celebrate. We heard how learning disability nurses are valued passionately by people with learning disabilities, their families and carers, and respected by other health and care professionals. We heard about the strong value base that unites learning disability nurses across all care sectors, with individuals at the centre of decision making, co-producing care along with family and carers. But we also heard how important it is that we continue to invest in learning disability nurses so their vital skills are available to those people who have learning disabilities today, tomorrow and beyond.

“A UK-wide project is being set up to nurture and develop aspiring leaders in learning disability nursing”

Many of the report’s recommendations focus on strategic workforce planning, along with development and modern-
isation of the role. This is to ensure the knowledge and skills of learning disability nurses are available across the lifespan and continue to support access to general health services, including mental health services. It is also to make sure learning disability nurses develop their role around health promotion and health improvement.

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all engaged in programmes of transformation, efficiency and improvement. Learning disability nurses must consider how they demonstrate their impact through measurable outcomes and evidence-based interventions, alongside traditional person-centred approaches.

Enhancement of the role to include non-medical prescribing, psychological therapies and telehealth is also recommended and should spread to settings such as the criminal justice system, mental health services (particularly dementia) and autism services.

Recommendations around education focus on the need to ensure all nurses develop the core knowledge and skills necessary to work safely and appropriately with people with learning disabilities, and to ensure flexible and sustainable delivery of pre- and post-registration opportunities across the UK.

All this requires leadership and a UK-wide project is being set up to nurture and develop aspiring leaders in learning disability nursing. Creating a UK academic network to share best practice, and develop the research and evidence base are key recommendations. It is vital this embraces members from all sectors to create a critical mass of leaders to effect change for the profession and those they serve. At the heart of the review is the development of a UK collaborative involving the health departments and the independent/voluntary sector to enable better understanding of, and planning for, a high-quality and sustainable workforce.

Implementing the recommendations to ensure a strong, vibrant learning disability nursing profession offers challenges in these tough economic times. It will require strong leadership, professionalism and a determined effort from all. However, this report provides a much-needed kick-start and a clear direction for the journey ahead.

Ros Moore is chief nursing officer for Scotland


Readers' comments (2)

  • whilst i completely agree with the comments above it can be difficult to translate the clear message given in Strengthening the commitment report into reality. if the Trusts decide that LD nursing has little value then all the post registration qualifications in the world wont sway them...and that is perhaps where the problem lies. people with a learning disability often recieve little or no recognition for their contribution in society, indeed neither do the professionals who train specifically to support them.

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  • I agree that we nees to develop strong leadership within LD services but although many groups say that in actuality they do not offer much in the way of development in this field. It is Mental Health that is always at the forefront and the two linked together. They are two distinct services and we in the LD service have to start making our voices heard above the crowd. The only time that LD services are highlighted especially within the media tends to be when negative services have been found. Now while I don't disagree with this a lot of LD nurses actually offer very good service and it's about time we saw positive news reports (I am sure that many of my colleagues across all sections feel this in general). Nurses work within what they are given to work with and government legislation has a huge impact on how services have to change. This continual fluidity of movement that filters down often means time actually spent delivering individual services is affected leaving nurses to feel devalued and de motivated. It's time to fight back with pride and positivity in what we do and show people we are a good service and start pushing for those who have experience in this field to actually be part of the inspectorate bodies. Maybe that way people will start to understand the service they are assessing and the difficulties faced not just by nurse but also by the client group many of whom have communication difficulties no matter how they present. What is needed is a strong leadership, an identifiable lead Learning Disability nurse in charge of an identified totally accepted independent UK body.

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