May 16 2012
Nurses who work with people with learning disabilities have "real concerns" about the safety of their clients because of cuts in services, according to a new study.
A poll of 500 nurses revealed that three out of four saw spending cuts to services in their area in the past year. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said its survey also discovered cuts in the range of services offered, such as health education and personal care packages.
Almost 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability and the figure is set to increase in the coming years, said the RCN, which has also warned of cuts among other areas of nursing, including the prospect of 60,000 job losses across the NHS.
RCN general secretary Dr Peter Carter said: "The NHS has a duty to treat everyone as equals and provide the care we all require. However, when it comes to people with learning disabilities, today's survey clearly shows that this is just not happening.
"With increasing caseloads and complexity of care, alongside decreasing staffing levels, it is hardly surprising that nurses are voicing concerns about the safety and welfare of their patients. Our worry now is that in this tough economic climate, the NHS could end up forgetting people with learning disabilities.
"The expert continuing care provided by these specialist nurses greatly improves the quality of life for people with learning disabilities and their families. However, over the past 15 years we have seen real underinvestment in learning disability care and this trend must be reversed as a matter of urgency."
The survey results were published at the RCN's annual conference in Harrogate, where nurses heckled Health Secretary Andrew Lansley over staffing numbers in the NHS.
Dan Scorer, senior campaigns and policy manager at learning disability charity Mencap, said: "Mencap campaigned heavily for the appointment of learning disability nurses, and where these are in post they have made a positive difference to the quality of health care and experiences of people with a learning disability and their carers.
"However, overall improvements in the NHS for people with a learning disability have been slow, and in some cases non-existent. Therefore it is deeply worrying to see that any progress that has been made may be undone by cuts to services.
"The Westminster Government needs to stand by its commitment to improve care for people with a disability and protect the frontline services they rely on. If it fails to do so, we fear that the result may be further avoidable deaths of people with a learning disability."