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Learning Disability Nursing


The centenary of learning disability nursing takes place on 21 June 2019, which falls in this year's Learning Disability Week (17-23 June).

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust employs a total of 111 learning disability nurses across both counties.

The majority of these specialist nurses do not work directly with service users who have a learning disability but the skills they have developed are highly transferable. This means that many of our qualified learning disability nurses, who include our Chief Operating Officer Stuart Richardson, are working successfully in many other areas.

Learning disability nurses today focus on person-centredness, individualised and holistic care, acting as advocates for those who do not get heard. Now that we know so much more about the health inequalities of people with learning disabilities, learning disability nurses have never been more needed.



Historically, people with a learning disability received care within their own homes, in workhouses or asylums.

The UK's first learning disability nurses were registered as "mental deficiency nurses" in 1919.

In that year, the Medico-Psychological Association (MPA), the national body for psychiatrists, awarded the first national certificate for mental deficiency nursing.

The term "mental deficiency nursing" 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.

We have staff working at our Trust today who qualified as a "Registered Nurse for the Mentally Handicapped" (RNMH), a job title which has been replaced by "Registered Nurse Learning Disability" (RNLD).


Our services

Although NSFT employs learning disability nurses in Norfolk and Suffolk, the Trust is commissioned to provide learning disability services only in Suffolk. In Norfolk, community learning disability services are provided by Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust and inpatient services by Hertfordshire Partnership University Foundation Trust.

NSFT's learning disability community teams are based in east Suffolk (Ipswich), west Suffolk (Bury St Edmunds) and in Lowestoft (Oulton). There are adult and learning disability CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) teams in each locality which support people with a moderate to severe learning disability who have mental health or challenging behavior.

A learning disability liaison service works closely with primary care in Suffolk, offering advice, consultation, training and occasional joint assessments to adults with learning disabilities who have complex needs, ensuring people have annual health checks and access to good physical health care.

Walker Close in Ipswich is the location of the inpatient assessment and treatment service for Suffolk. It provides six specialist beds for adults with moderate to severe learning disability who have challenging behavior or a mental health need. An intensive support team is also based there which works in the community with service users, parents, carers and social care teams to prevent admission to hospital.

In addition, we have a network of about 200 "Green Light Champions" across Norfolk and Suffolk who support people with learning disabilities who have mental health problems. They include staff working in all areas of NSFT, service users and staff in other organisations, such as Suffolk Community Services and Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust.

To read about people's experiences of learning disability nursing, hover over the 'About us' tab at the top of this page; in the dropdown menu, hover over 'Learning Disability Nursing' and click on any of the names in the dropdown menu to the right.​

To find out more about the​​ centenary celebrations, read our press release here.