The Loch Ness Monster & the Learning Disability Nurse

April 26, 2015

What has the Loch Ness monster and a learning disability nurse (RNLD) got in common I hear you say, well after some reflection during my ten hour coach detour on my way back from attending Positive Choices in Cardiff, quite a lot.


Five of the team facilitated a series of whirlwind cafe workshops at Positive Choices in Cardiff, the biggest conference for students nurses in the UK. We wanted to ascertain what student nurses wanted to see on our recently relaunched website and some of the issues they were currently facing as students. We also used the conference to gain feedback on the planned re-launch of the Learning Disability Champions Project.  This project will see student and qualified nurses attending local schools and colleges giving talks to people about the merits of a career within this branch of Nursing.   Champions would also talk to first year student learning disability nurses about what to expect over the next three years and to make students aware of support sites such as our own, WeLDNurses, LDNReseach, Positive Choices etc.



We asked students at the conference to describe their experiences during their few days at University or placement, what had it been like ?.  What came across was that the big false myth that has carried on since the dawn of time still exists. That myth is that there are no solid career pathways and jobs in learning disability nursing are hard to locate. This myth may have not been around as long as the Loch Ness monster myth, but it’s still strong, and its still being told to student learning disability nurses across the UK.




Recently scientists scanned the Loch Ness for ‘Nessy’ without any luck. Over the years there have been lots of the scientific searches all with the same inconclusive results. The same cannot be said of career pathways and job opportunities for learning disability nurses. Bob Gates Task and Finish report (2011) spelled out an early warning that there needed to be an increase of student learning disability nurse places to replace the large number of soon to be retired qualified RNLD’s. The report went on to give numbers of nurses working in the public sector dropping but in the private sector it was not the same story but no definite numbers could be found .  Taking a look at some of the major nurse recruitment sites it is quite clear there is still a big demand for RNLD’s.  The majority of vacancies are now in the private sector and the voluntary sector.


In 2012 the Strengthening the Commitment (STC), the report of the UK Modernising Learning Disabilities Nursing Review aimed to dispel part of the myth by looking at a number of issues around capacity, capability, quality and overall awareness of the profession.  So have some of the myths been dispelled by the STC work over the last three years ? well we will get our chance to judge that when outcomes of the STC will be showcased at a conference in Derby on the 18th June.   What cannot be argued against is the increase in the number of RNLD’s working in non tradition learning disability roles such as dementia and acquired brain injury. Is that a direct result of the STC ? unsure at this point.


So back to Positive Choices with students  sharing  similar experiences of being told in their first few days of starting nurse training that they were not a real nurse and that they should jump branch quickly, and very sadly some do !!! .  If students survive this they then go to a placement and the nurses around them says the branch is dying and why are you doing it ?; stating there are no jobs etc.  For a student to hear all these myths in their first 6 months knocks their confidence and makes many  question their chosen career path.


Maybe it should be the role of placement mentors and universities on  first placement to ensure students are aware of sites such as and  Weldnurses. On top of this is the biggest myth buster of them all, Positive Choices ;  this conference  should be made mandatory for all first year students.  I would love to see the outcomes this conference has on both student nurse retention levels and philosophy of practice. To have such a unique network of support is invaluable and has inspired many nurses over its 15 years, including myself,  to make that difference in their practice and to be proud to be an RNLD.


So even though the myth of Loch Ness has been seriously questioned by scientific research, the myth remains. Maybe this may be the same about career opportunities within learning disability nursing. Hopefully with conferences like Positive Choices; work around the Strengthening the Commitment initiative;  and the re-launch of the learning disability champion project, we can carry on chipping away at the negative myth that surrounds careers within this branch.

"Together we are stronger"


I do however want the Loch Ness myth to carry on forever.



Many thanks to Michelle Parker and Graham Burrell for such a positive contribution to the workshops,  and to Ross Golightly and Chris Hardy for the extraordinary commitment to the Positive Choices via live streaming.  Finally thanks to the PC team for allowing us the privilege to be part of such a great tribe.


Author:  Sean Ledington




Department of Health, Scotland. Scottish Government, Northern Ireland. Department of Health, Social Services, and Public Safety, Wales. Welsh Assembly Government (2012). Strengthening the Commitment: The Report of the UK Moderninsing Learning Disabilities Nursing Review. Edinburgh: Scottish Executive, 2012.

Gates , B 2011 , Learning Disability Nursing: Task and Finish Group Report for the Professional and Advisory Board for Nursing and Midwifery – DH . University of Hertfordshire , Hatfield .

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