Research by Mencap estimates that an average of three vulnerable patients die prematurely every day in NHS hospitals, when a lack of specially trained nurses to care for patients with learning disabilities means there are delays in diagnosis.

According to Freedom of Information requests by the charity, 40% of NHS trusts do not employ a learning disability (LD) nurse, and not one NHS hospital in England has a 24 hour LD nurse.

Due to the difficulties many people with learning disabilities have in communicating their symptoms to medical staff, Mencap believes the shortage of LD nurses puts many lives at risk.

The number of LD nurses employed in the English NHS has fallen sharply over recent years from 5,700 in September 2009 to only 4,000 In July this year. Mencap has raised concerns that LD nurses are perceived as expendable, which is contributing to the fall in staff numbers.

Bryan Prudham, senior clinical negligence solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors’ Newcastle office said: “Learning disability nurses are falsely regarded as expendable specialists which, coupled with the government’s relentless budget cuts and never ending NHS reforms, is taking a huge toll on the number of LD nurses in post.

“It is clear from Mencap’s investigations that vulnerable patients with learning disabilities have specific needs, which can often only be fulfilled by a specially trained nurse able to identify a patient’s normal behaviour and communicate with them appropriately.

“The decline in these specialist nurses has had a detrimental impact on the lives of patients with learning disabilities and their families. The government needs to acknowledge that this shortage is playing a direct part in the significant and ongoing loss of life, and commit to investing in the wellbeing of vulnerable patients.”