Learning Disability Nursing

Learning disability nurses play a vital role in supporting both people with learning disabilities and their families to access a range of different healthcare services. People with learning disabilities often have complex health needs and face a higher rate of health inequalities compared to the general population. Therefore, learning disability nurses are essential to ensuring people with learning disabilities can reach their optimum state of health and live a fulfilled life. Learning disability nurses work in a diverse and broad range of settings such as hospitals, primary care services, community multidisciplinary teams, assertive outreach services and within people's homes.

Learning Disability Nurse: Career Case Notes

Check out all the vitals for a career as learning disability nurse:

Graphic of a clipboard on background of medical illustrations that reads: Profession: Learning Disability Nurse Essential Qualifications: A degree or degree apprenticeship approved by the Nursing & Midwifery Council Frequently works in: People’s homes, schools, residential & community centres, mental health setting Frequently works with: GPs, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech & language therapists Average working hours: 37.5 hours on shift pattern which can include nights, early starts, evenings, weekends and bank holidays. Key skills: Patience, assertiveness, communication, teamwork, adaptability


What do Learning Disability Nurses do?

Learning disability nurses support people with learning disabilities in a range of different ways, such as through health education and facilitation, providing nursing interventions, liaising with other health and social care professionals whilst developing and maintaining a therapeutic relationship with both the people they support and their families and carers.

Some of the key roles and responsibilities of a learning disability nurse include: 

•    Working as a primary care liaison nurse
•    Working within acute settings such as general and mental health hospitals
•    Working with children and young people
•    Delivering health promotion and health education
•    Working as a care coordinator to support and manage a person's health
•    Working as a member of a multidisciplinary team
•    Undertaking various nursing assessments and clinical skills

Where do Learning Disability Nurses work? 

Learning disability nurses work with patients across their lifetime - from children to end of life care. Therefore, their roles enable them to work in a broad and diverse range of settings. Some areas you could work in include:

  • People's homes
  • Education
  • Residential and Community Centres
  • Hospitals
  • Patient Workplace
  • Mental Health Settings

What skills do you need? 

Being a learning disability nurse is a challenging but rewarding career. These are just some of skills that are central to this role. Click to find out more about what these mean in practice. 

  • Patience

    Being a learning disability nurse can be emotionally and mentally demanding. Every day there could unique challenges that may require additional time or energy. When challenges occur, showing compassion and patience towards all patients is crucial. This ensures that every person can fulfil their potential and receive the type of care that they need.

  • Assertiveness

    People with learning disabilities can at times face discrimination or have their needs ignored. This means that an essential part of being a learning disability nurse is being an advocate for people with learning disabilities and having the courage to stand up for patients. This could be mean ensuring care plans are implemented at school and work or attending other healthcare appointments with patients to ensure that they receive fair treatment. 

  • Communication

    Being able to communicate with colleagues, patients and their families is an essential part of being a learning disability nurse. Being a good communicator is also about being an attentive listener as feedback from patients and their families is essential to building a successful care plan. Many patients may struggle to explain their needs verbally so being patient and able to pick up on behaviour, body language and gestures is also important. 

  • Teamwork

    Learning Disability nurses work as part of a multi-disciplinary team to care for their patients. This could include co-ordinating with social workers, directing teams of healthcare assistants or attending GP appointments with patients. This ability to cooperate with a range of people ensures that patients can receive care that benefits all aspects of their health and wellbeing. 

  • Adaptibility

    No two days are the same for a learning disability nurse as they often work with people of all ages and backgrounds, each with their own unique set of needs and interests. Therefore, they must be open to the diversity that comes with this role and willing to adapt their approach to suit each individual. This means that the role can come with an element of creativity as each care plan and its delivery will be unique. 

    It is equally important to recognise that patients may be unpredictable in their actions and behaviour so being able to quickly adapt and respond to situations is essential. 

What qualifications do you need?

Specific requirements may vary but in general you will be expected to have:

  • A degree or degree apprenticeship in Learning Disability Nursing that is approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council – Some courses allow you to study multiple areas of nursing at once. 
  • 5 GCSEs 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English, maths, and a science.
  • 2-3 A levels, including a science, or a Level 3 diploma or Access to higher education in health, science or nursing.

Why study Learning Disability Nursing? 

Learning Disability Nursing could be for you if you want to:

•    Make a difference in someone's life.
•    Develop therapeutic and meaningful relationships.
•    Think outside the box and take a creative approach to delivering nursing interventions.
•    Work in a diverse range of settings
•    Advocate for people and work across different health and social care professions
•    Be assertive and develop your communication and leadership skills. 
•    Ensure that people with learning disabilities receive fair and respectful treatment.
•    Have good graduate prospects (nurses are always in high demand.)

Student Stories: Sophia, Year 3 Learning Disability Nursing

  • What is something you wish people knew about learning disability nursing?

    "I wish people knew about our skills and knowledge as learning disability nurses and how we are able to think quickly on the spot, with ideas that some people might think are weird or confusing but we know will make a difference to a person with a learning disability’s life or situation. I think we are able to quickly adapt to each situation and have a unique way of working to understand the people who we care for. I would also like more people to be aware of our clinical skills and that we are able and competent in clinical skills and medication as well as our problem solving and communication skills. 

  • What do you love about learning disability nursing?

    "I love being able to make someone smile or feel at ease by communicating with them in a way in which they understand. I’ve often entered a room full of professionals but I’m the only one able to understand and communicate with the person with a learning disability. It makes me feel proud of what I do and reminds me of why it’s so important."

  • What led you to studying your course?

    "I worked as a health care assistant in a residential home for adults with learning disabilities. I cared for a gentleman while he was in hospital for months as he was unwell and was upset and sometimes frustrated about the way he was treated and cared for by the nurses at the hospital. It was hard to see him being treated unfairly by nurses and no reasonable adjustments being made for him despite myself and other carers asking. I met with the learning disability liaison nurse who understood my frustration and was quick to make changes to ensure he had a comfortable and person centred stay while at hospital. It made a massive difference, and I knew that I wanted to make changes in people’s lives and be an advocate for people with learning disabilities."