Nurse Consultant

Quote / Testimonial:

Being a consultant nurse has been the best part of my nursing career. I was appointed in 2002, so am now 18 years into the role. I have been able to continue to work with people with learning disabilities, their families and carers directly and make a difference to their lives and health outcomes, but I’ve also had the opportunity to influence strategy at all levels, creating the changes needed to keep driving health services for people with learning disability forward. It’s not an easy job and it takes time and commitment, but it is certainly rewarding.

Christine Hutchinson, consultant nurse, Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust


Nurse consultants are highly experienced nurses who have specialised in a chosen area of practice. 

All consultant nurse posts are firmly based in clinical and nursing practice and involve nurses working directly with patients, clients, or communities most of the time. 

Consultant nurses are the senior nurse leaders in their area and are expected to function at strategic levels, in addition to the personal level, to work across organisations’ boundaries and to push practice forward, sometimes working where policy or procedure has not yet been developed.

The consultant nurse will work across the range of health and social care settings provided locally by statutory, private and voluntary sector agencies in order to provide expert nursing practice. This role will provide expert nursing advice to support and inform an evidence-based approach within ethical frameworks when contributing to commissioning and planning new services.  The consultant nurse will also develop innovative new approaches to collaborative working alongside medical, clinical, and social care practitioners.

The nurse consultant is a progressive, clinical role, allowing for the development of future nursing roles and highlighting the contribution nursing makes to evidence-based practice, excellence in care, and service development.

Salary, hours and benefits

Average salary£43,000 – £72,000
Typical hoursStandard hours are usually around 37.5 hours a week.
You could workDepending on your role, you could work day and night shifts, weekends and bank holidays, or office hours.
  • A minimum of 27 days of annual leave per annum,
  • Opportunity to join the NHS Pension Scheme,
  • Access to occupational health services.
  • Professional development opportunities
  • Opportunities for flexible working.

What you’ll do

Day-to-day tasks

Your day-to-day duties may include:

  • working in partnership with senior leaders in the organisation to drive forward clinical excellence and service user experience,
  • providing expert clinical advice and consultancy to other professionals, individuals, and families,
  • providing clinical, operational, and strategic leadership at a local, national, and sometimes international level, and act as an advocate for the learning disability nursing profession,
  • leading on the development of nursing practice within the learning disability field while raising the profile and the standards of the profession,
  • holding a small caseload of complex patients and working alongside other members of the multidisciplinary team to deliver person-centred care, treatment, and support,
  • establishing and maintaining networks and work across agencies to develop excellence in clinical practice.

Restrictions and requirements

You’ll need to pass enhanced background checks, as you may be working with children and vulnerable adults.

Working environment

As a nurse consultant in learning disabilities and autism, you may be caring for and supporting people in their own home, in the community, in a hospital, or in any health and care setting, working with registered nurses and other health and care professionals as part of a multidisciplinary team.

Characteristics and skills required

You’ll need:

  • a master’s degree,
  • recognised clinical experience at a senior level a sound knowledge of current policy relating to learning disability,
  • the ability to synthesise and present information in a formal and professional way to a wide-ranging audience,
  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills,
  • the ability to work autonomously, flexibly, and in a self-directed way,
  • the ability to network and develop connections across sectors, working in partnership with key stakeholders,
  • to demonstrate on-going Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and show evidence of learning and development.

Acquiring a teaching qualification or nurse-prescribing award will be important if you aspire to become a nurse consultant.

Career path and progression

This is the most senior clinical role a nurse can undertake.

With significant experience and knowledge, you could also develop into an approved or responsible clinician role. In this very senior role, a nurse has direct responsibility for the overall care and treatment of someone detained under the Mental Health Act or subject to a Community Order such as a Community Treatment Order, Guardianship, or Conditional Discharge.

The approved clinician’s remit is far ranging when allocated as a responsible clinician, including:

  • Making decisions about treatment,
  • Reviewing detentions,
  • Assessing whether the criteria for renewing detention are met,
  • Granting leave of absence for detained patients,
  • Barring the nearest relative from discharging the patient in specific situations,
  • The power of discharge from detention.

Although the approved clinician has overall responsibility, decisions about the service users’ care and treatment are made in discussion with the multi-disciplinary team.

There are other aspirational roles that the consultant nurse may undertake. For example, working in universities or government, or in wider roles such as nurse directors, associate nurse directors, or independent work.

Career Framework levelRoleDegree?
3Healthcare Support Worker
Support workers work with people with a learning disability and autistic people to promote independence and well-being, and they sometimes provide direct physical help when called for. They mainly work out in the community and are most commonly employed by organisations outside of the NHS.
3 and 4Assistant Practitioner
Assistant practitioner is a clinical role, delivering person-centred care with other members of the nursing team. Assistant practitioners provide direct care to people, and may contribute to service improvement projects, support the collection of data relating to safety and quality, and supervise those in healthcare support worker roles. They work under the direction of a registered health professional, as part of a team with other healthcare staff, and have a lot of contact with patients.
Assistant practitioners undertake a level 5 two-year foundation degree in health or social care, which may be available as an apprenticeship programme.
4Nursing Associate
Nursing associates work with people of all ages in a variety of settings in health and social care. As a nursing associate based in a learning disability setting, you may be caring for and supporting people in their own home, in the community, in a hospital, or in any health and care setting, working with registered nurses and other health and care professionals as part of a multi-disciplinary team.
The Nursing associate foundation-level degree is delivered by a two-year apprenticeship programme.
5 and 6Registered Nurse – Learning Disability
The registered nurse – learning disability plays a vital role, working with people with learning disabilities across the whole lifespan in both health and social care settings. By working with people and their families, and putting the person at the centre of everything they do, these nurses lead the way in achieving positive health and social outcomes for people with learning disabilities.
Undergraduate Degree
Can be delivered as an apprenticeship programme.
7Advanced Clinical Practitioner
Advanced clinical practice is delivered by experienced nurses and embodies the ability to manage clinical care in partnership with individuals, families, and carers. In the field of learning disability nursing, advanced clinical practitioners might specialise in a particular aspect of health service delivery to people with a learning disability, such as physical health inequality, behaviour, forensics, or autism.
Masters Degree
8Nurse Consultant
Nurse consultants, also called consultant nurses, are highly experienced nurses who have specialised in a chosen area of practice. All consultant nurse posts are firmly based in clinical and nursing practice and involve nurses working directly with patients, clients, or communities for much of their time.
Masters Degree

How to become a Nurse Consultant


Many higher education institutions run level 7 masters programmes. Some will be delivered face-to-face, some online, and some will have a blended approach of both face-to-face and online learning. Many are delivered part time, enabling you to work alongside study.


Some masters-level awards can be delivered as an apprenticeship. Your employer will support you to undertake this while continuing to work and earn a salary. Most masters-level apprenticeship programmes will be approximately 36 months in length.

You will need to have significant experience of working as a nurse,  be capable of complex decision-making and have the ability to work with high levels of autonomy.

If you are interested in becoming a nurse consultant, it is really helpful to speak to existing nurse consultants about their roles; many are open to offering opportunities for shadowing and talking about the role.

Think about the leadership requirements and how you can access programmes of learning and opportunities to develop your leadership skills.

Consider the ways that you can specialise as a learning disability nurse to develop clinical expertise based on research, evidence, and clinical practice.

It is important to have on-going continuing professional development and evidence of learning and development. Studying at master’s level and acquiring a teaching qualification or nurse prescribing award will be important if you aspire to become a nurse consultant.

Financial support

If you work in an NHS organisation in London, you are given an uplift in salary, known as London weighting. This is a percentage increase in your salary depending on the location of your employer within the London region.

Current opportunities

Employers may offer nurse consultant opportunities as part of their workforce development. They may also advertise these posts externally or advertise vacancies for those who have already gained a Masters-level qualification.

Apply for role either through NHS jobs or by networking with people who are already working in the speciality area you want to work in.