Experts from the Royal College of Nursing have warned that the NHS could return to the “Victorian era” when it comes to the treatment and support of people with learning disabilities due to an already critical shortage of specialist nurses which has been exacerbated by the Conservatives’ cuts to student bursaries.

The lack of specialist support will require patients be moved to specialist centres to help facilitate their care, warned the Royal College of Nursing.

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.”

Figures from UCAS, the administrative body which deals with university application, said that there was a 40% drop in the number of students over the age of 25 who applied for nursing courses in the two years since the bursary was scrapped. Mature students are more likely to specialise in “shortage specialities” such as learning disabilities or mental health care.

Since May 2010, the number of nurses who specialise in supporting people with learning disabilities has dropped by 40%, falling from 5,368 to 3,247 in April of this year.

In a statement to the Independent, 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.”


Image: Flickr/Gary Knight


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