The 4 Main Types of Nurses in the UK


Nurses form the backbone of the UK’s healthcare system and play a vital role in promoting health, preventing disease, and caring for the ill or disabled. With over 300,000 active nurses registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), nurses make up the largest regulated health and care profession in the UK. This article will provide an overview of main types of nurses in the UK, their key duties, where they work, and requirements to qualify.

But not all nurses have the same roles and responsibilities. There are four main types of nurses in the UK – adult nurses, children’s nurses, learning disability nurses, and mental health nurses. Each focuses on caring for a particular group of patients with specialized needs.

Adult Nurses

Adult nurses care for young people and adults over the age of 18 with physical or mental health conditions. They make up the bulk of NHS nursing staff, numbering around 285,000 as of 2022. Their duties include:

  • Assessing and monitoring patients
  • Administering medications and treatments
  • Developing personalized care plans
  • Assisting in tests, scans, and procedures
  • Providing health education and advice

Adult nurses work in various settings such as hospitals, community health centres, patient homes, doctor’s offices, residential care facilities, schools, workplaces, prisons, and the military.

To qualify as an adult nurse with the NMC, one must complete a 3-year Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing approved by the NMC.

Children’s Nurses

Children’s nurses care for babies, children, teenagers, and young people up to the age of 18. There are around 19,500 registered children’s nurses in the UK. Their responsibilities include:

  • Monitoring growth, nutrition and development
  • Administering vaccinations and medications
  • Providing therapy, counseling and education
  • Coordinating care plans and discharge planning
  • Supporting families and carers

Children’s nurses often specialize in areas like general pediatrics, neonatal or pediatric intensive care, oncology, or child mental health. They mainly work in settings like hospitals, hospices, community health facilities, schools, and patients’ homes.

The training pathway includes a 3-year NMC-approved Bachelor of Science degree in Children’s Nursing. Some nurses may further specialize through a post-graduate degree.

Learning Disability Nurses

Around 7,500 learning disability nurses provide specialized care to children, teenagers and adults with learning disabilities, autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, and genetic conditions. Their key duties involve:

  • Identifying and assessing care needs
  • Developing tailored care plans
  • Providing one-on-one physical and mental health care
  • Assisting with daily living activities
  • Coordinating multidisciplinary care teams
  • Supporting families and carers

Learning disability nurses often work closely with patients in community-based residential care homes, specialist hospitals and housing, schools and colleges, day care centres, and patients’ family homes.

The training required is a 3-year NMC-approved Bachelor of Science degree in Learning Disabilities Nursing.

Mental Health Nurses

Caring for patients with various mental health conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and addictions is the focus of mental health nurses. Around 77,500 currently practise in the UK. Their key duties and responsibilities cover:

  • Assessing mental, emotional, psychological health
  • Providing therapy, counselling and psychosocial interventions
  • Developing psychiatric care plans and risk assessments
  • Administering medications
  • Coordinating care teams and services
  • Supporting recovery and rehabilitation

Mental health nurses are employed in inpatient psychiatric units and forensic secure settings, crisis and home treatment teams, community mental health teams, outpatient clinics, schools, prisons, and private practices.

The training required is a 3-year NMC-approved Bachelor of Science in Mental Health Nursing.


While there is some crossover, the four main types of nurses in the UK – adult, children’s, learning disability, and mental health nurses – each have their particular focus areas based on the specific needs of their patient groups. But no matter their specialization, all nurses play a critically important role in delivering empathetic, knowledgeable and clinically competent care.

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