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Nurses who qualify in this branch of nursing help people with learning disabilities to live independent and fulfilling lives. They may work with people in supported accommodation, or with those who need more intensive support – for instance, in hospitals or in specialist secure units for offenders with learning disabilities. There is also the opportunity to specialise in areas such as epilepsy management or working with people with sensory impairment.

You need to complete a pre-registration nursing programme and have excellent communication skills to be a learning disability nurse In this role you will help people of all ages with learning disabilities to maintain their health and wellbeing and to live their lives as fully and independently as possible. You’ll also offer support to their families, carers and friends.

Being a learning disability nurse includes teaching people the skills to look after themselves or to find work, and helping with daily activities such as attending college, going on holiday or out with friends.

You’ll need to draw up care plans and monitor the implementation of recommendations and will work in teams with other nurses and health and social welfare professionals.

As well as helping patients to stay healthy and making sure that they get any medical care they need, you’ll help their families and carers to take breaks when necessary.

Getting Qualified 

To work as a nurse in the UK, you must be registered with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC). To become registered, you need to have completed an accepted pre-registration nursing programme and these are only run at NMC approved educational institutions (AEIs).

Pre-registration degrees can be taken in four disciplines:

  • children (paediatric);
  • adult;
  • learning disability;
  • mental health.

Typically, half of the course is based in clinical practice, giving you direct experience of working with patients and families. You could be based within a variety of settings including hospitals, the community, patients’ homes and independent organisations.

Developing Relevant Skills 

You will need to show:

  • empathy, sensitivity and compassion when working with patients and their families;
  • flexibility as you’ll be dealing with patients who have a range of needs;
  • patience in difficult circumstances and because results may not be quick;
  • assertiveness and the ability to advocate for people with learning disabilities;
  • emotional resilience;
  • good communication skills and the ability to gain the trust of people from a range of backgrounds;
  • ability to work as part of a team.

Taking Responsibilities

The work is mainly based in community or supported living-settings and your tasks may include:

  • using expert communication skills to engage with vulnerable people;
  • interpreting and understanding behaviour and evidence-based outcomes to develop individual care packages;
  • coordinating healthcare reviews/care plans with other health and social welfare professionals, and completing appropriate paperwork;
  • organising home visits and attending GP clinic appointments to monitor and discuss progress with patients, their carers and their GP;
  • planning activities, social events and holidays with service users (in supported-living settings);
  • liaising with hospital admissions staff to plan patients’ care needs on admission and discharge (e.g. housing and medication);
  • carrying out group work on issues such as problem-solving, anxiety management, healthy living and behaviour management;
  • supporting staff and carers in the community;
  • assisting with tests, evaluations and observations;
  • maintaining awareness of local community activities and opportunities;
  • supporting the agenda for equality and equal access to all community and public services.

Managing Expectations 

  • Where you work can vary. If you’re based in the community you may be in clinic-type settings and/or spend time visiting patients in their own homes. You could also work with people in supported accommodation or with children in independent and state-funded specialist schools.
  • Opportunities exist in most major towns and cities, but may be more limited in rural areas.
  • Most learning disability nurses tend not to wear a uniform but may adhere to a dress code.
  • The work may be emotionally and physically demanding at times but can also be rewarding when you see the result of your work with a patient.
  • You could spend a lot of time travelling during a working day, particularly if your service covers a large geographical area.

Working For Good Employers 

As a learning disability nurse, you can work in a variety of settings, including services provided by the NHS, social services and private companies. These include:

    • day services;
    • private hospitals;
    • home-based care;
    • Nursing Homes;
    • supported accommodation (where five or six tenants live together in a house);
    • adult education centres;
    • prisons and detention centres;
    • workplaces;
  • specialist schools;

In addition, there are a number of charities and private and voluntary organisations that provide support and accommodation for people with learning disabilities.

There are many specialist nursing agencies, such as Secure Healthcare Solutions, that recruit for both permanent and temporary positions. Look for job vacancies at: securehealthcaresolutions.co.uk/jobs