‘Tolerating violence’: a qualitative study into the experience of professionals working within one UK learning disability service


  • Andrew Lovell BA, PhD, RNLD,

    Professor of Learning Disabilities, Corresponding author
    • Department of Mental Health & Learning Disability, University of Chester, Chester, UK
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  • Joanne Skellern BSc, MSc, RNLD

    Senior Lecturer
    1. Department of Mental Health & Learning Disability, University of Chester, Chester, UK
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Correspondence: Andrew Lovell, Professor of Learning Disabilities, Department of Mental Health & Learning Disability, Faculty of Health & Social Care, University of Chester, Riverside Campus, Castle Drive, Chester CH1 1SL, UK. Telephone: +44 (0)1244 511631.

E-mail: a.lovell@chester.ac.uk


Aims and objectives

To explore this complexity further, enhancing understanding of professionals' experience of violence and reasons for non-reporting with regard to people with a learning disability.


This article reports on a qualitative follow-up study to a whole-population survey investigating the under-reporting of violence within one learning disability service. The survey had identified a pronounced level of under-reporting but suggested an unexpected degree of complexity around the issue, which warranted further study.


A qualitative research design was employed.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 22 professionals working in learning disability services; data were subsequently transcribed verbatim and subject to stringent thematic analysis.


The findings confirmed that the decision to report an incident or not was complicated by professional interpretation of violence. Three themes were produced by the analysis: the reality of violence, change over time and (zero) tolerance.


The study indicates that both experience of violence and ways of understanding it in relation to learning disability are shared across professional groups, although nurses are both more inured and generally more accepting of it. The study suggests that the relationship between learning disability nurses and service users with a propensity for violence is complicated by issues of professional background and concerns about the pertinence of zero tolerance.

Relevance to clinical practice

The availability of effective protocols and procedures is important, but services need also to acknowledge the more ambiguous aspects of the therapeutic relationship to fully understand under-reporting of service user violence in the context of learning disability.