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Learning disability care could return to ‘Victorian era’ because of nurse training cuts, experts warn

This article was taken from: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/learning-disability-nurse-training-bursary-nhs-cuts-tory-austerity-a8491681.html

By Alex Matthews-King Health correspondent

‘Bleak image that is not what care should look like in the 21st century,’ says Royal College of Nursing

The NHS is facing a return to the “Victorian era” when it comes to learning disability care because of a critical shortage of specialist nurses made worse by Tory cuts to student bursaries, experts have said.

Without sufficient staff, patients needing extra support will need to be removed from their friends and families to be cared for at specialist centres, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned.

Since May 2010 there has been a 40 per cent drop in numbers of learning disability nurses in England, official figures from NHS Digital show – falling from 5,368 in May 2010 to 3,247 in April 2018.

Hopes of reversing this change have been made worse by the decision to scrap bursaries to study nursing, leading to particularly severe drops in the numbers of mature students – the group most likely to specialise into shortage specialities like learning disabilities and mental health.

There was a 40 per cent drop in the number of students aged over 25 applying for nursing in the two years since the bursary was scrapped, Ucas figures show.

Dame Donna Kinnair, director of nursing, policy and practice at the RCN, said: “The nursing shortage in England is harming some of the most vulnerable members of society.

“Those with learning disabilities already face a lower life expectancy and poorer health outcomes than the general population, and a lack of specialist knowledge will make matters worse.

“Without the specialist support provided by registered nurses, more patients may end up in institutions, away from their families and friends and shut off from society.

“This bleak Victorian image is not what care should look like in the 21st century.”

A survey by the Council of Deans for Health on behalf of Health Education England (HEE) carried out in May found around half (46 per cent) of universities in England have discussed discontinuing learning disability nursing programmes in September.

Dame Donna said: “Ministers have known about the steady drop in applications for the best part of a decade, and have allowed a crisis to develop in learning disability care.

“We want to see urgent investment to attract more applicants into learning disability nursing, and an effective workforce plan to ensure every member of our society receives safe and effective care.”

Learning disability nurses provide specialist care in the community and in some acute trusts.

Labour’s shadow health minister, Justin Madders, said: “The Royal College of Nursing’s powerful warning must serve as an urgent wake up call to the new health secretary.

“Under this government learning disability nurses have been cut to the bone, and they appear to have gone quiet on their plans to attract more students into the profession.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We’re committed to ensuring people with learning disabilities receive high quality care and we are looking at how we can recruit more nurses into specialisms such as learning disabilities, including an accelerated post-graduate programme.”

“While there are now record numbers working in the NHS, investing in our workforce will continue to be a top priority and we recently announced the biggest ever increase in training places for nurses, doctors and midwives.”