The evolving role of community nurses for people with learning disabilities: changes over an 11-year period

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Aims and objectivesTo provide an overview of the changes in the caseload and working practices of community nurses for people with learning disabilities (CNLDs) over an 11-year period within one region of the UK.BackgroundRecent reviews of government policy within the UK and internationally have highlighted the need to promote inclusion and health facilitation for people with learning disabilities (intellectual disabilities). The CNLDs have been highlighted as having an integral role in achieving these objectives. However, little is known about the current role of community nurses and how this has evolved over the past decade.Designs and methodsA survey design was used in which the total population of CNLDs within one region of the UK were asked to complete a postal questionnaire.ResultsForty community nurses in Northern Ireland completed questionnaires. This provided information about 1559 people with learning disabilities on their current caseloads. Results showed less involvement with children, more focus on adults with physical and mental health needs and nurses often appeared to have a monitoring rather than an active clinical role. Data also identified an increasing caseload size and a pattern of referral largely from within learning disability services.ConclusionsThe role of CNLDs has altered in Northern Ireland over the past 11 years with some evidence of a reorientation towards a more health-oriented focus. Further consideration needs to be given to how well this will meet the changing needs of people with learning disabilities and their families in light of the increasing emphasis on the provision of inclusive services.Relevance to clinical practiceCommunity nurses need to review their current role, caseload management and links to primary and acute care if the policy objectives of inclusive services and health facilitation are to be achieved. It will also be necessary to revise their education preparation in light of the changing role of CNLDs.

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