Learning disability nurse: job description

Learning disability nurse: job description

Learning disability nurses provide care and support to adults and children with learning difficulties to help them live as independently as possible.
Learning disability nurses need excellent communication and interpersonal skills as well as patience and resilience.

What does a learning disability nurse do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Learning disability nurses work to ensure that the needs of adults and children with learning difficulties are met. They seek to improve or maintain their physical and mental health and enable them to lead fulfilling lives. They may teach people with learning disabilities the skills required to find work. Typical responsibilities of the job include:

  • assessing and planning care requirements
  • advising about and organising appropriate care, resources or benefits
  • writing care plans that outline timescales
  • assisting with basic, practical living skills, such as getting dressed, preparing food and travelling
  • liaising with relatives, colleagues and other social welfare or healthcare professionals
  • monitoring and administering medication and injections
  • providing support to relatives
  • writing records and reports
  • meeting clients at home or at clinics to discuss progress
  • organising social activities and holidays for clients in residential care
  • helping to enable clients to have full and independent lives

Typical employers of learning disability nurses

  • The NHS
  • Residential homes
  • Social services
  • Charities
  • Specialist schools
  • Day centres

Learning disability nurses may work in a range of settings, including people's homes, workplaces, hospitals and prisons.

Vacancies appear online, in newspapers, on the NHS jobs website and publications such as Nursing Times and Nursing Standard.

Qualifications and training required

The main route into qualifying as a nurse is to take a nursing degree in one of the four nursing specialisms: adult nursing, children's nursing, learning disability nursing or mental health nursing. Some degree courses cover two of these fields, and are known as 'dual field' degrees. Most nursing degree courses are three years long, with the exception of dual field degrees and nursing degrees in Scotland. Nursing degree courses provide a mix of formal teaching and practical experience.

You apply for full-time undergraduate nursing degrees through UCAS. Application criteria vary but you are likely to need at least 2 (more often 3) A levels or equivalent qualifications, plus a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grade C (equivalent to grade 4) including English, maths and a science (usually biology).

Graduates in a relevant subject such as life, health, biological or social sciences can qualify via a shortened two-year postgraduate course. The recognition process for your first degree is known as APEL (accreditation of prior experiential learning). You can find out more about accelerated nursing courses for graduates from UCAS and the NHS health careers website. You will need to check directly with institutions to find out if your degree course is acceptable for entry.

Nursing degree apprenticeships are now offered by a small number of NHS organisations. They are similar to nursing degrees in that they involve a mix of academic study and placements, but they are employer-led rather than being led by universities. Nursing degree apprentices are released by their employers to undertake academic study at degree level on a part-time basis, and also train through a series of practice placements. Level 3 qualifications (that is, A level or equivalent) are usually required, as the apprenticeship is at degree level. You can look for nursing degree apprenticeships on the NHS jobs website or the government's apprenticeship search. Applicants who have completed a nursing associate apprenticeship will be able to finish a nursing degree apprenticeship in a shorter period of time than other candidates, as the nursing associate apprenticeship will count towards it.

The nursing associate apprenticeship is a two-year training programme that is being trialled from 2018. Nursing associates undertake academic learning one day a week and work-based learning in a variety of settings the rest of the week. You need to have GSCEs in maths and English at grade 9 to 4 (A to C) or equivalent to apply. More information about nursing associate apprenticeships is available from the NHS health careers website.

All nurses working in the UK must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). When students complete their nursing degrees, their universities pass on their details to the NMC, which then gets in touch to let them know how to create an online account and apply for registration. There is a fee of £120 for this. Nurses are required to renew their registration and pay the registration fee each year, and must revalidate their registration every three years. In order to revalidate registration, nurses must have completed a minimum of 35 hours continuing professional development (CPD) and 450 hours registered practice over three years.

Nurse First, a pilot two-year fast-track programme for graduates who want to enter nursing, has recently been launched by NHS England, and combines hands-on experience and training with an educational course. The scheme's initial focus is training mental health and learning disability nurses.

Any experience of caring for or working with people, for example in a care home or hospice, can be helpful.

Key skills for learning disability nurses

  • Excellent interpersonal skills
  • Care, compassion and empathy with patients
  • Teamworking skills
  • Verbal and written communication skills
  • Resilience, stamina and patience

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