In 3 years NHS learning disability nurse numbers increase by only 22! ‘Lives are being put at risk’ – RCN warns
The lives of learning disability patients are being put at risk because the number of specialist nurses caring for them has flatlined, the Royal College of Nursing warned.
The number of learning disability nurses in England has risen by just 22 in the last three years, despite numerous warnings from experts.
The Royal College of Nursing is calling for the government to urgently re-double its efforts to address the dire shortage of learning disability nurses.
England’s chief nurse Ruth May admitted last week numbers were not growing fast enough.
Delivering successful care to learning disability patients is challenging due to communication difficulties and the impact of poor care can be devastating.
People with learning disabilities are more likely to have serious health conditions, like congenital heart disease or respiratory illnesses, and die around 25 years sooner than the general population.
In its new report, published on Monday, Connecting for Change: for the future of learning disability nursing, the RCN is calling for:
- A dedicated learning disabilities minister or commissioner in each of the four nations to protect the care and rights of patients with learning disabilities, echoing the calls made by charities in Scotland;
• Clear and accurate data about the learning disabilities nursing workforce to aid recruitment and retention. There is no official data for learning disability nurses working outside the NHS;
- Adequate funding for learning disability services provided in social care;
- More funding for the education and training of learning disability specialist nurses;
- A strategy to prevent the reoccurrence of the abuse experienced by people with learning disabilities, such as the cases highlighted at Winterbourne View and Whorlton Hall Hospitals which were closed as a result.
Jonathan Beebee, Professional Lead for Learning Disability Nursing at the Royal College of Nursing and one of the authors of the new report, said: ‘The shortage of nursing staff could be putting the lives of people with learning disabilities at risk.
‘It’s scandalous that in this day and age people with learning disabilities are still dying on average 25 years sooner than the general population.
‘Specialist care can transform their lives.
‘Investment is much needed to encourage people to train as a nurse and take the career path into learning disability nursing.
‘Learning disability nursing is incredibly rewarding but we struggle to recruit, and this is partly due to lack of recognition and identity for what learning disability nurses offer.
‘The RCN has a key role to play in encouraging more students and newly qualified nurses to specialise in this area.’
At HM Prison & Young Offenders’ Institution Parc in Bridgend, Wales, the team of nurses created the UK’s first dedicated prison wing for prisoners with a learning disability or autism spectrum conditions.
This allows them to look after vulnerable prisoners’ physical and emotional health away from the general prison population, as well as preparing them for release.
There are only about 17,000 learning disability specialist nurses in the UK.
In 2018, the number of learning disability nurses working in hospital and community health services in England hit a record low – just 3,192 – a fall of 40% in less than a decade. Since then, that number has risen to 3,214 – a rise of just 22.
But a further complication is that 85% of the learning disability nurses work outside the NHS and therefore are not counted.
The RCN is calling for a more detailed analysis of the existing workforce.
Last week NHS Chief Nurse Ruth May told the NHS Confederation’s annual conference that the number of learning disability nurses was ‘not increasing in the numbers we would like’, adding that it was a ‘fabulously privileged part of the nursing profession.’
- The Royal College of Nursing has launched a Rest, Rehydrate and Refuel initiative emphasising the need for nursing staff to take their rest breaks and have access to water and healthy food during shifts.
The RCN stated on Monday: ‘We’ve launched our updated Healthy Workplaces resource to highlight the need for nursing staff to take their at-work breaks and remain hydrated during their shifts.
‘The toolkit provides organisations with a framework to use to improve working environments and includes pandemic-specific advice.
‘Developed with input from RCN members, it aims to improve their working environment and conditions, and the subsequent impact these have on their health and wellbeing.’
Ali Upton, Chair of the RCN UK Safety Representatives Committee, said: ‘These resources have led to a number of organisations setting up hydration stations and investing in the basic needs of their nursing staff, but there is more to do.
‘It is vital that organisations and managers demonstrate compassionate leadership to ensure that staff have frequent hydration and nutrition breaks.’
- More than 220 nurses across the UK tried to end their life during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, concerning data obtained by a mental health charity suggests.
The Laura Hyde Foundation said that, according to its own investigations, at least 226 nurses across all settings had attempted suicide between 1st April 2020 to 30 April 2021.
Over the same time period, 79 paramedic and ambulance staff and 17 medical students had also attempted suicide, the charity said.
The charity, set up in memory of nurse Laura Hyde who died by suicide in 2016, has now launched a new suicide prevention resource which aims to signpost nurses and other frontline staff to appropriate support, while providing ‘education and de-stigmatisation’ around suicide.
The estimates on attempted suicide rates during the pandemic are based on information gathered for the charity by the partner organisations it works with for its support service hub, which provides access to free mental health treatment for emergency services workers.
As part of the investigation, the charity also carried out an online survey of 850 NHS workers between March and April 2021, which suggested staff may be missing out on support due to an ongoing perceived stigma attached to mental ill health.
Almost three-quarters (71%) of respondents said they had not been entirely truthful in the past about their reasons for being absent from work when mental health issues were present.
Of those, 44% said they would rather explain their absence as musculoskeletal issues to avoid follow-ups.
Meanwhile, 53% of respondents felt uncomfortable in taking up employer-based mental health support services, and the two main reasons stated for this were that they feared letting down their colleagues or being struck off.
Chair of the Laura Hyde Foundation, and cousin of Ms Hyde, Liam Barnes, said: ‘Make no mistake, we are now entering a new pandemic.
‘A pandemic of mental health problems for frontline workers who stepped up at a time of national emergency. We have to help them.’
Barnes noted that, while there had been recognition during the pandemic of the mental health needs of emergency services staff, he felt that ‘the topic of suicide is often too hard or too taboo to reference.’
He stressed that he wanted to use ‘our very own Laura’s story to highlight that suicide is very real and far too frequent for it not to be discussed.
‘The statistics we highlight today show this and we encourage people to remove the barriers and get the help they need,’ added Barnes.