Career Profiles – Learning Disability Nurse

If you want to work as part of a team to support people with learning disabilities and their families get the best out of life, then this could be the ideal job for you.

Learning disability nurses are based in a variety of settings in the community and in hospitals. They promote the health and wellbeing of their patients, and work to improve their quality of life to help them live as independently as they can.

You will need to be sensitive to the needs of your patients, have excellent communication skills and be able to deal with a challenging health and social care environment. To work as a learning disability nurse, you will need to complete a Nursing and Midwifery Council approved degree in nursing.

The work

As a learning disability nurse, you would work with people of all ages who need assistance with aspects of everyday life. You would provide them with specialist healthcare and would help people by teaching them skills and giving them the encouragement and confidence they need to live as independently as they can. You may also counsel and advise clients’ families and carers.

Your work with clients would often begin with an assessment of their health and social care needs. These are likely to be complex and may also be linked to physical disabilities, epilepsy, mental health problems or difficulties with speech, hearing or vision.

You would provide support to your clients to meet their individual needs, which would include making sure they had access to the right health services, treatment or therapy.

Your day-to-day duties would involve leading activities that promote health, wellbeing and independence, which could include giving practical help and encouragement with:

  • personal hygiene
  • dressing
  • using public transport
  • going on shopping trips
  • pursuing leisure interests or community activities
  • making and attending appointments
  • finding a job.

You could also work with clients in their place of employment, in adult education, in school, residential or community centres, and in their home (for example helping them bring up a family).

Your may also mentor and supervise support workers, and provide specialist advice to the wider healthcare team including doctors, physiotherapists, speech therapists, social workers and teachers.


You would typically work 37.5 hours a week, which could include evenings, weekends, night shifts and bank holidays as 24 hour care may be required. Many NHS Trusts and other healthcare providers offer flexible hours or part-time work. Extra hours may also be available as overtime.

You could work in setting ranging from clients’ homes, residential units, hostels and day centres attached to hospitals, to mainstream or special schools.


Nurses can earn between £21,388 and £27,901 a year. Experienced nurses working as advanced practitioners, clinical specialists or nurse team managers can earn from £25,500 to around £40,500. Nurse consultants can earn between £39,000 and £67,000 a year.

Extra allowances may be paid to those living in or around London.

Figures are intended as a guideline only.

Entry requirements

To qualify as an learning disability nurse you will need to study for a degree in learning disabilities nursing leading to registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

To do a degree, you will normally need:

  • at least five GCSEs (A-C), including English, maths and a science
  • two or three A levels, including at least one science or health-related subject
  • good references.

You will also need to pass occupational health checks and background checks by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). See the DBS website for more information.

Contact course providers for exact entry requirements, as other qualifications may also be accepted, such as an Access to Higher Education or Level 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care. If you already have a health-related degree, you may be able to join a nursing degree on the second year of a course at the course provider’s discretion.

You can find course providers on the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) and NHS Careers websites. The NMC website also includes application advice.

Please note: the Advanced Diploma/DipHE in Nursing is no longer open for applications. All applicants must now complete a degree.

When applying for a course, it may be helpful if you have some relevant paid or voluntary experience. You can check the Do-it website and also contact the voluntary services coordinator at your local NHS Trust for information about volunteering opportunities.

Alternative entry routes

You could prepare for entry to a nursing degree by doing an Apprenticeship in healthcare. Schemes vary between NHS Trusts, but will normally include clinical placements and working towards a qualification like the Level 3 Diploma in Clinical Healthcare Support.

To find out more visit the Apprenticeships website and contact your local NHS Trust.

Nursing cadet schemes also offer on-the-job training, which could be used as entry to a nursing degree although most have now been replaced by the Apprenticeship route.

If you are an experienced healthcare assistant or mental health / special needs support worker with a level 3 qualification and you have the backing of your employer, you may be able to complete a part-time nursing degree by applying for a secondment. Check with your employer for details about secondments.


You may be eligible for NHS funding to do a nursing degree, which would include course fees and a bursary to help with living expenses. Full-time students will receive a non-means tested grant of £1,000, an additional means tested bursary of up to £4,395 a year (£5,460 for students in London) and can apply for a non-means tested loan. Check with NHS Student Bursaries for full details.

Nurses trained outside the UK

If you are a qualified nurse from a country inside the European Economic Area (EEA), you can apply to register with the NMC. You may need to take further NMC-approved assessments or training before you can register, depending on your qualifications and experience.

If you qualified outside of the EEA, you may need to complete the Overseas Nurses Programme before you can work as a nurse in the UK. Check with the NMC for details.

Training and development

Once you have started a nurse training programme, you will divide your time between university study and supervised work placements in hospitals and in the community. Most courses are full-time and take three years to complete.

A learning disabilities nursing degree will cover many areas, including:

  • foundations and theory of nursing practice
  • developing communication and teamworking skills
  • person- and family-centred care
  • complex health and social needs of people with learning disabilities
  • service user involvement
  • physiology
  • safeguarding and partnership working
  • medicine management
  • professional standards and code of practice.

Throughout your course, you will have the opportunity to develop your knowledge and skills by working in a variety of settings from supported residential accommodation to community services like diagnostic and assessment centres.

Your progress through the course would be measured through a combination of coursework, assessment, exams and project work.

With further study (for example to masters degree level) you may be able to apply for advanced nurse practitioner (ANP) and clinical nurse specialist (CNS) posts. Experience in these roles can lead to a nurse consultant job. Nurse consultants work directly and independently with patients, carry out research and deliver training.

Professional registration

As a qualified nurse you must renew your professional registration with the NMC every three years. To renew, you need to have worked a minimum of 450 hours and completed at least 35 hours of professional development training during the three-year period. Check with the NMC for details.

If you are already a registered nurse and want to move into a different branch of nursing, you may be able to apply for a shortened 18-month training programme.

Return to practice

If you are a former registered nurse wanting to return to the profession, you can take a return to practice course to bring your skills and knowledge up to date. See the NMC website and contact your local NHS Trust for more details.

Skills, interests and qualities

As a learning disability nurse, you will need:

  • the ability to relate well to people of all ages and backgrounds
  • maturity, patience, compassion and sensitivity
  • excellent communication and listening skills
  • the ability to teach and encourage clients to develop their skills
  • the ability to gain the trust of clients and their families
  • physical and mental stamina
  • the ability to stay calm and in control in difficult situations
  • a genuine desire to help people
  • assertiveness with the ability to represent a client’s interests
  • self awareness, resourcefulness and emotional resilience
  • a flexible approach to work
  • the ability to work as part of a team
  • the ability to recognise signs of physical or emotional problems.

More information

Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) (Opens new window)
23 Portland Place
Tel: 020 7333 9333

NHS Careers (Opens new window)
PO Box 2311
Tel: 0345 60 60 655

Health Learning and Skills Advice Line
Tel: 08000 150850

Queens University of Belfast (Opens new window)
School of Nursing and Midwifery
Medical Biology Centre
97 Lisburn Road
Tel: 028 9097 2233

University of Ulster at Jordanstown (Opens new window)
School of Nursing
Shore Road
Co Antrim
BT37 0QB
Tel: 08700 400 700

National Leadership and Innovation Agency for Healthcare (Opens new window)
Innovation House
Bridgend Road
CF72 9RP
Tel: 01443 233 333

Skills for Health (Opens new window)
Goldsmiths House
Broad Plain
Tel: 0117 922 1155


You will find most jobs within the NHS. You could also work within the private sector, the prison service, and local authority social services.

With experience, you could specialise in an area such as sensory disability, or go on to lead of team in a residential setting or manage a learning disability unit. You may also progress into other management roles, such as community matron or director of nursing.

You could also train as a health visitor.

Related industry information

Industry summary

The health sector is represented by Skills for Health Sector Skills Council, which comprises three sub?sectors:

  • National Health Service (NHS)
  • Independent Healthcare Sector (such as private and charitable healthcare providers)
  • Third Sector (healthcare) (such as small local community and voluntary groups, registered charities, foundations, trusts, social enterprises and co?operatives)

The health sector is made up of hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, dental practices, the ambulance service, nursing homes, residential care homes, complementary medicine and a huge range of other health related activities, from sight tests in opticians to research in medical laboratories. Most people in the health sector work in the publicly funded National Health Service (NHS), which includes:

  • primary care (organisations which the public goes to first) – Doctors/General Practitioners (GPs), NHS Walk in Centres, NHS Direct, Out of Hours Emergency Care
  • secondary care (organisations which the public are referred onto) – Ambulance Trusts, NHS Trusts/hospitals, NHS Foundation Trusts/hospitals, Mental Health Trusts, Care Trusts (provide joint health and social care activities)

NHS policy in England is directed from the centre by the Department of Health. Local organisations, known as Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), are in charge of providing and commissioning services, controlling the majority of the budget. PCTs are overseen by 10 regional organisations called Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs).

The independent sector includes companies and charities that offer hospital and specialist services usually after referral from a doctor. Operations and other work are carried out in private hospitals, independent treatment centres, mental health units and hospices.

Key facts:

  • The health sector is the largest employer in the UK, representing 5.5% of the working age population of the UK and 7.3% of the working age population that are currently in employment.
  • It is estimated that the sector employs over 2 million people, including:
    • over 1.5 million people in the NHS (72%)
    • over 0.5 million people in the Independent Healthcare sector (26%)
    • almost 40,000 in the voluntary sector (2%)
  • 56% of the workforce has a higher education qualification (or equivalent).
  • The age profile for the sector shows an older than average workforce, which is due in part to the fact that it takes some professions a long time to train and can mean that people enter the sector later.

There is a varied list of jobs in the sector ranging from a diverse number of clinical roles, to support and infrastructure staff, for instance: Allied Health Professionals (AHPs); Ambulance Staff; Dental Staff; Doctors/Medical staff; Nursing staff; Midwifery Staff; Healthcare Scientists; Health Informatics Staff; Management; Wider Healthcare Team; Complementary Therapists.

Further sources

NHS Careers has sections on: