Academics from the University of Sunderland were meeting health ministers today amid calls to train all health care professionals to support people with learning disabilities.

It comes as efforts are stepped up for mandatory basic training for health care staff in learning disabilities and autism.

The University last month welcomed its first cohort of students on the new Learning Disability Nursing degree which is seen as a vital step forward in addressing the shortage of trained staff to care for some the most vulnerable members of society.

The NHS in England is facing up to a 35% shortfall in learning disability nurses by 2020 unless action is taken to address the current education and recruitment problems according to an official analysis.

Glenn Batey, a Senior Lecturer in Pre-Registration Learning Disability Nursing at the University, said Sunderland was very much “bucking the trend” when it came to the training of learning disability nursing staff.

Glenn said: “With some institutions’ courses been regarded as unviable, it is fantastic that Sunderland is able to work with partner organisations to begin offering learning disability nursing at the University to address the workforce challenges.”

Glenn was meeting with Caroline Dinenage MP, from the Department of Health (DoH) on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

Since changes in student financing for health courses there has been a reduction in the number of applications for learning disability nursing courses. However the University of Sunderland welcomed its first cohort of learning disability nursing students in September and is actively recruiting for its second stating in April 2019.”

Glenn said: “I am pleased to welcome our students to University of Sunderland at the start of our latest offering in the School of Nursing & Health Sciences. The health needs of people with learning disabilities is going to be one of the main priorities for the NHS and reducing inequalities and premature mortality. We want our students to be able to make a difference when they join the profession and make a difference to the lives of people with learning disabilities and their families.”

According to Mencap, 23% of healthcare professionals have never attended specific learning disability training, while 66% said they wanted more training. About 47% of hospitals do not include information on learning disability in induction training for clinical staff.

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