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