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100 Years of Learning Disability Nursing

Tuesday 14 May 2019

COMBINING Nursing with Social Work, it has been called the “toughest” but also the “most rewarding” job in the NHS.

As it marks its 100th year, the profession of Learning Disabilities Nursing has never been in such demand, with four universities including Nottingham and Bedfordshire launching new degree courses or apprenticeships next year.

The University of Salford is staging a special day on May 15 to reflect on the discipline which has been a staple of the Salford School of Nursing, now the School of Health & Society for almost 25 years.

Celebration organiser and Nurse Lecturer Noel Fagan said: “There is a strong school of thought in the nursing profession that every nurse should have experience with children, adults, people with mental health needs and learning disabilities.” 


“If a student is able to look after somebody with a learning disability, they can essentially look after anybody, because it is really very complex.”

Yet ahead of the Centenary, Health Education England has warned of a 30-35% shortfall in learning disability nurses by 2020.

In a talk to students and professionals, Noel reflects on the history of a line of work which was born out of the 19th century asylums.Learning Disabilities Nursing was put on a national and professional as a result of the Mental Deficiency Act 1913, which required local authorities to provide for people with certain needs.

Their first carers were registered as mental deficiency nurses in 1919. This term was used until after the Second World War when it was replaced by mental subnormality nursing and then renamed mental handicap nursing in the 1970s. Learning disability nursing became the accepted term in the 1990s.

Most of the asylums housed a broad range of people, and all would have included some who had learning disabilities.

Leading the way

Salford and Manchester universities integrated nursing and social work in 1995 and Noel Fagan says: “The North West and Greater Manchester has led the way in many respects in terms re-shaping services and the preparation of practitioners. In particular, the establishment of Community Learning Disability Team’s that brought key professionals together.”

Noel is joined in the afternoon by colleague Sarah Kennedy, Abby Taylor, a self advocate who talks about the support she has received from learning disability professionals and “what I want to see in the future."

And we are delighted to welcome the NHS’s Head of Learning Disability, David Harling will talk about how services need to develop and the opportunities opening up to learning disability professionals.

An Open Forum for questions, comments and shared experience closed the event.

See here for more about the BSc Learning Disabilities Nursing and Social Work at the University of Salford.

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Gareth Hollyman, Senior Press & PR Officer (Science)

0161 295 6895