Looking to the future for learning disability nurses

New standards on how people with learning disabilities are cared for in hospitals in England have been launched, meanwhile two category winners in this year's RCNi Awards showcase just how innovative staff in the specialty can be

Standards have been introduced in a bid to improve the care of people with learning disabilities.

They are NHS Improvement’s answer to questions raised following the many cases of poor care and neglect that have come to light over the years.

Respecting and protecting rights, including and engaging people with learning disabilities and their families and carers, and ensuring the workforce has the skills and capacity are all fundamental principles. A fourth standard applies to specialist learning disability services and includes plans to develop intensive community support.

How they are worked in practice is important. Not least how, at a time when the population of people with learning disabilities is growing but there are fewer learning disability nurses in practice, these standards are upheld.

There are calls for all nurses and healthcare professionals to have mandatory training. Among them are the family of Oliver McGowan, who had autism with a mild learning disabilityand who died age 18. The family believes his death could have been avoided if staff had training in making reasonable adjustments and they have started a parliamentary petition.

Others are worried that such a move might allow registered learning disability nursing numbers to drop further, therefore weakening the pool of expertise. Evidence also shows that where you have liaison nurses standards tend to improve.

Award-winning practice

Let’s not forget that good practice is happening now, which deserves to be celebrated.

RCNi learning disability nursing category winner Tracey Hartley-Smith (left)
Picture: John Houlihan

This year’s RCNi Awards learning disability nursing category winner Tracey Hartley-Smith developed a service that provides children, young people and their families with access to specialist learning disability services for the first time and has improved their lives dramatically. And this year’s healthcare assistant award was Fiona Dilorenzo who saved her trust £150,000 by reducing cancelled appointments and improving the experience of patients with learning disabilities.