Learning Disability Nurse

The Job and What's Involved

Around two to three per cent of people have a learning disability. Learning disability nurses help such people to lead fulfilling lives and be as independent as possible. Patients, usually known as clients, can be children or adults of any age. Duties are tailored to meet the needs of individual clients but could include:

  • Working with others to assess clients and produce individual care plans.
  • Teaching clients to cope with everyday tasks such as dressing, cooking or shopping, and encouraging them to live more independently.
  • Supporting clients' efforts in education, work or bringing up a family.
  • Supporting clients' families or carers, teaching them how to give care and arranging for them to take breaks.
  • Representing clients' interests.
  • Working with groups of clients in areas like healthy living or managing anxiety.

To make sure clients have the help and support they need, learning disability nurses work closely with doctors, health visitors, physiotherapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, healthcare assistants, social workers, teachers and employers.

Learning disability nurses in the National Health Service (NHS) usually work 37.5 hours a week. This may include weekend and bank holiday working and, in some jobs, evening and night shifts. Part-time work and flexible hours are often available.

Most nurses work in the community, in patients' homes, special schools, day centres and residential homes. Some work in hospitals. They may spend time working with clients in a range of situations including shops, cafes, leisure centres, workplaces, holiday centres and on public transport.

The starting salary for a newly-qualified nurse is around £19,166 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 23,000 registered learning disability nurses in the UK. Many work for the NHS. There are also opportunities in the private healthcare sector and with local authority learning disability teams.

Learning disability nurses must hold a degree or diploma recognised by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), qualifying them in the learning disability branch of nursing. For more general information about becoming a nurse, see Nurse. They must register with the NMC before they are allowed to practise.

Education and Training

All nurses must hold a degree or diploma in nursing recognised by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). These are offered at universities and colleges throughout the UK. Each university decides its own academic entry requirements, but all applicants must demonstrate ability in literacy and numeracy, and provide evidence of good health and good character.

Candidates for diploma courses usually need the equivalent of at least five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) including English and a science subject. Degree course entry usually requires five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and two A levels/three H grades or equivalent. Full-time diploma courses last three years. Degree courses last three or four years. The minimum age to start training is 17.5 years (17 in Scotland).

In England it may be possible to join a nurse cadet Apprenticeship or training scheme. These usually last up to two years and lead to an NVQ/SVQ Level 3 or Access course pass. This could act as a qualification for entry to a nursing diploma course.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Graduates with a relevant degree (for example a health-related or biology-based degree) may apply for an accelerated training programme leading to a diploma, postgraduate diploma or a Masters degree. Accelerated programmes usually last a minimum of 24 months.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Learning disability nurses may take further training to allow them to specialise in fields such as sensory disability or education.

The NHS and other employers are committed to offering learning and development opportunities to nurses. New treatments and techniques are introduced all the time so it is essential that nurses update their skills and knowledge on an ongoing basis. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is essential in order to remain eligible to practise.

Registered nurses may also choose from a wide range of courses to extend their skills in a variety of specialist areas.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A learning disability nurse should:

  • Have excellent people skills and be able to relate well to people from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures.
  • Have good communication and teaching skills.
  • Have practical skills.
  • Remain calm in difficult situations.
  • Pay attention to detail.
  • Have empathy with patients and their families and be able to gain their trust.
  • Be non-judgemental.
  • Have the confidence to make decisions and work independently.
  • Be good at teamwork.
  • Be able to prioritise a busy workload.
  • Be prepared to help patients with intimate tasks.
  • Be confident with writing and numerical work.
  • Be physically fit and emotionally strong.
  • Not be squeamish.

Your Long Term Prospects

Learning disability nurses may apply for leadership roles with wider responsibilities such as team leader, charge nurse or nurse consultant.

There may also be opportunities to move into research, nurse education, nurse management or general NHS management.

There may be opportunities to work overseas.

Get Further Information

NHS England: NHS Careers. PO Box 2311,
Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Website: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk

NHS Scotland: Careers and Opportunities in the NHS Scotland
Tel: 0845 601 4647
Website: www.nhscareers.scot.nhs.uk

NHS Wales: National Leadership and Innovation Agency for Healthcare,
Innovation House, Bridgend Road, Llanharan CF37 9RP
Tel: 01443 233333
Website: www.wales.nhs.uk

Royal College of Nursing (RCN),
20 Cavendish Square, London W1G 0RN
Tel: 020 7409 3333
Website: www.rcn.org.uk

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