Learning Disability Nursing

Learning disability nurses provide specialist care, support and treatment to people with a learning disability and to their families and carers, to help them lead fulfilling lives.

Learning disability nurses:

  • support people with a learning disability, taking a lifelong approach to maintaining physical and psychological health and social wellbeing, so that people can live their lives as fully and independently as possible.
  • provide health education adapted to each individual’s cognitive ability along with support to manage their health, especially for those with long-term conditions.
  • work closely and collaborate with the person, their family, carers, other health, social work, and educational professionals, and all members of the learning disability care team.

Learning disability nurses are often staunch advocates for the people and families that they support and ensure that people’s human rights are protected by facilitating reasonable adjustments and enhancing communication.

Career roles and progression

Find out about different learning disability nursing roles – what the job entails, pay and benefits, training, entry requirements, financial support, and career progression:

Healthcare Support Worker
Support workers work with people with a learning disability and autistic people to promote independence and wellbeing, providing direct physical help where required. They work with registered nurses and other health and care professionals as part of a multidisciplinary team.
Assistant Practitioner

Assistant practitioner is a clinical role, delivering person-centred care with other members of the nursing team. Assistant practitioners provide direct care to people, and may contribute to service improvement projects, support the collection of data relating to safety and quality, and supervise those in healthcare support worker roles. They work under the direction of a registered health professional, as part of a team with other healthcare staff, and have a lot of contact with patients.

Foundation degree, which may be available as an apprenticeship programme.
Registered Nursing Associate

Registered Nursing Associates work with people of all ages in a variety of settings in health and social care. A Registered Nursing Associate working within a learning disability setting will contribute to planning, implementing and evaluating care to support people to live independently. They work with registered nurses and other health and care professionals as part of a multidisciplinary team.

Foundation-degree  delivered by a two-year apprenticeship programme. 
Registered Learning Disability Nurse
The registered learning disability nurse plays a vital role, working with people with learning disabilities across the whole lifespan in both health and social care settings. By working with people and their families, and putting the person at the centre of everything they do, these nurses lead the way in achieving positive health and social outcomes for people with learning disabilities.

Undergraduate Degree
Can be delivered as an apprenticeship programme.
Advanced Nurse Practitioner
Advanced nurse practice is delivered by experienced nurses and embodies the ability to manage clinical care in partnership with individuals, families, and carers. In the field of learning disability nursing, advanced clinical practitioners might specialise in a particular aspect of health service delivery to people with a learning disability, such as physical health inequality, behaviour, forensics, or autism.
Master’s degree
Nurse Consultant
Nurse consultants, also called consultant nurses, are highly experienced nurses who have specialised in a chosen area of practice. All consultant nurse posts are firmly based in clinical and nursing practice and involve nurses working directly with patients, clients, or communities for much of their time.
Master’s degree

Why choose learning disability nursing

A career in learning disability nursing means that every day is different. It is a unique and diverse branch of nursing, working across physical and mental health, and psychosocial care. Learning disability nurses build relationships, based on understanding a person’s wishes and goals, which support not only people with learning disabilities but their families too. They make a difference!

Learning disability nurses support people of all ages. They work alongside people, and support them to reach their full potential and live a full and meaningful life. They work holistically and in a person-centred way, to provide bespoke care to suit a person’s individual needs. Working to fight stigma and health inequalities, learning disability nurses advocate for people’s rights, promote equality, and mentor and teach others outside of their profession.

Where learning disability nurses can work

Many registered learning disability nurses work in community settings, including supporting transition back to the community from inpatient settings.

Learning disability nurses can also work in residential and educational settings, in specialist services such as with people who have neurodevelopmental needs, people with a forensic history or risk, or in prisons.

There are also liaison roles both in hospitals and primary care settings, supporting access to mainstream health services and roles in commissioning, public health, and research.

Find out more about learning disability nursing:

The National Learning Disability Nursing Forum

Helen’s story (Professional Lead Learning Disability Nursing) https://youtu.be/j0LUANjtDao

Daniel’s story (Practice Development Nurse) https://youtu.be/qxG4F_Sno4E

Careers in learning disability nursing (from HEE careers) https://youtu.be/Co0_VrifKEc

Careers in learning disability nursing (from Royal College of Nursing) https://youtu.be/D3o-xhDvg-U