Learning disability nurse: job description

Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:39

Learning disability nurses provide care and support to people with learning disabilities to help them live as independently as possible.

Alphabet, symbolising learning disability nursing.

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

Learning disability nurses specialise in providing healthcare to adults and children with learning disabilities. For example, they support patients in maintaining their physical and mental health and help them with daily activities so they can live as independently as possible.

Typical duties include:

  • supporting people with learning disabilities in hospital – for example, by outlining treatment options and helping them make informed decisions
  • talking to patients and observing them to understand their needs
  • planning patients’ care based on your observations and knowledge of available treatments
  • finding appropriate ways to communicate with patients and build trusting relationships with them
  • advising on and organising appropriate care, resources and benefits
  • 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
  • writing records and reports
  • meeting clients at home or at clinics to discuss progress
  • organising social activities and holidays for clients in supported living settings.

Learning disability nurses are often based in community or supported living settings, including prisons. You may also need to visit patients in their homes.

Graduate salaries

NHS nurses’ salaries are set by the government rather than individual hospitals. Newly qualified adult nurses start at band 5 with a salary of around £28,407. Pay increases with experience: after two years, you’re likely to be earning around £30,000. You’ll be able to apply for higher band roles after you’ve completed additional training.

If you work in London, you’ll be entitled to a high-cost area supplement to cover the higher costs of working in the capital.

Typical employers of learning disability nurses

  • The NHS
  • Private healthcare providers
  • Local authorities
  • Charities, particularly those focusing on supporting people with learning disabilities
  • Prisons
  • Nursing agencies.

You’ll find jobs advertised by individual NHS trusts and advertised on sector-specific jobs boards.

Qualifications and training required

You can become a learning disability nurse via a nursing degree or through an apprenticeship. If you choose the degree route, you’ll need to specialise in learning disability nursing (or include it in a dual field degree, in which you’ll specialise in two areas). Nursing degrees take three years (some take four in Scotland) and 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 two (more often three) A levels or equivalent qualifications, plus GCSEs in English, maths and a science.

If you already have a degree in a health-related subject health, biological or social sciences, you can qualify via a shortened two-year postgraduate course. You can find out more about accelerated nursing courses for graduates from UCAS and the NHS health careers website. You’ll need to check directly with individual institutions to find out if your existing degree is suitable.

You can also qualify as a learning disability nurse via a degree apprenticeship. These are similar to nursing degrees in that they involve a mix of academic study and placements, but involve working in a health-related role while studying on regularly scheduled days. This means you can apply what you’re learning to your job and your patients.

Another option is to take a nursing associate apprenticeship. This is a training programme that involves studying for part of the week and work-based learning in a variety of settings for the rest of the week. You could then progress to a nursing degree apprenticeship or a nursing degree.

You don’t need work experience to become a nurse, but any gained caring for or working with people can be helpful – for example, working as a care assistant or volunteering at a day centre for adults with learning disabilities. The experience will help you build skills you’ll need as a nurse and help you decide if this is the career for you.

Learning doesn’t stop once you find a nursing job – and in fact, it’s essential to keep up to date with medical research and practice. All nurses working in the UK must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and, as part of your registration, you’ll need to complete a minimum of 35 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) and 450 hours of registered practice every three years.

Key skills for learning disability nurses

To succeed in this field you'll need:

  • the ability to build trusting relationships with patients and their carers
  • the ability to keep accurate patient details
  • observation and listening skills
  • the ability to show compassion and empathy to patients and their carers
  • teamworking skills
  • the ability to communicate with people from a range of backgrounds, including those who may need help communicating, and those in senior roles
  • the ability to explain complex information simply and accurately.

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