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Loss of mental health nurses puts pressure on workforce, RCN warns

The RCN has responded to figures showing that the number of mental health nurses in England has fallen over the past five years

The number of mental health nurses in England has fallen, leaving the remaining nursing workforce to ‘bear the brunt’ of increasing pressures, the RCN has warned.

Health and Social Care Information Centre workforce statistics reveal that the number of qualified nurses working in psychiatry has fallen by 10.8%, from 41,320 in 2010 to 36,870 in 2015.

While the total number of nurses working in community psychiatry remained relatively stable, down from 15,986 to 15,826, the total number in ‘other psychiatry’ – mainly hospital units – fell by 17%, from 25,334 in 2010 to 21,044 in 2015.

RCN professional lead for mental health Ian Hulatt said: ‘It is a perfect storm. We have lost a lot of band 7 and band 8s where jobs have been downbanded or lost.

‘I am aware of a specialist unit for people with personality disorders that has six band 5 vacancies.’

Mr Hulatt said it is worrying that ‘firefighting has become the modus operandi for most services’, adding that the remaining nurses must bear the brunt of staff shortages and rising demand.

RCN research published last month shows there are 10,000 nurse vacancies in London.

Mental health trusts are among those with the highest nurse vacancy rates, with South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust having the joint highest rate, at 30%.

City University London professor of collaborative mental health nursing Alan Simpson said research by the university shows widespread concern about the impact of cuts and changes in service provision to meet austerity targets.

He added: ‘Mental health nurses and other staff are under intolerable pressures. We are returning to caseloads and demands on services not seen since the 1980s.’

The warning comes as a Freedom of Information request by Liberal Democrat mental health spokesperson Norman Lamb revealed a leap in the number of mental health patients dying in NHS care in the past three years.

NHS England figures show there were 8,139 serious incidents in England’s mental health trusts in 2014/15, up 34% from 2012/13.

The number of unexpected deaths rose by 21% (from 1,412 to 1,713) over the same period, while suicides and suspected suicides increased by 26% (from 595 to 751).

A Department of Health spokesperson said that there has been a greater investment in mental health care than ever before, with an estimated £11.7 billion last year. 

He added: ‘Having the right number of staff is also vital, which is why the number of mental health nurse training places is increasing.’

 

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