More help urged for nurses with mental health issues

More help is needed for nurses with mental health problems, says a service offering such support to doctors

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The medical director of a service offering mental health support for doctors has called for more help for nurses after having to turn away some seeking help.

The NHS Practitioner Health Programme (PHP) offers doctors confidential help with mental health problems, including addiction.

PHP’s medical director Clare Gerada told Nursing Standard: ‘I’m very worried about nurses. We focus on doctors, but if you look carefully, nurses have rising mental ill health and suicide rates and there is a blame culture.’

Clare Gerada: ‘Nurses have rising
mental ill health and suicide rates.’
Picture: Andrew Hasson

Dr Gerada said PHP had to direct nurses seeking help elsewhere in most cases. ‘We have actually seen about a dozen nurses since we started the programme but we do it by special arrangement and they have found us by word of mouth. Generally, we will have to signpost nurses elsewhere,’ she said.

‘We have had senior nurses approach us who run drug addiction services and are addicts themselves but we are not commissioned to see them and we have to ask them to go to their GP and get a referral.’

Understandable pressures

Dr Gerada said nurses face understandable mental health pressures and need greater support.

‘Why wouldn’t nurses have rising rates of mental ill health and suicide? In the current environment they probably feel they have to be perfectionists but do not always have the resources to do it.

‘If there isn’t one already, a confidential mental health service for nurses should be commissioned and one that could cope with the thousands of nurses who might get in touch.’

Need help?

For help in dealing with suicidal thoughts contact the Samaritans free to call helpline 116 123 or visit the NHS’s Help for Suicidal Thoughts

Responding to Dr Gerada’s comments, RCN acting general secretary Dame Professor Donna Kinnair said the government should do more.

More effective approach

‘A more effective approach would be for government to make sure that all health-related organisations where stressful environments exist are given funding to put their own comprehensive mechanisms in place to offer confidential help to staff,’ she said.

Professor Kinnair said the RCN’s helpline for distressed members had seen more nurses having suicidal thoughts over the past 18 months.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: 'Our wonderful NHS nurses dedicate their lives to caring for their patients and it is only right they get the same level of care in return.

'As the country’s largest employer, we want the NHS to lead the way in providing a supportive place to work – and we know the best trusts are ensuring their staff have swift access to mental health services such as counselling and talking therapies, as set out in the Farmer-Stevenson report last year.'

Data from the Office for National Statistics released last year showed 218 suicides among nursing and midwifery professionals between 2011 and 2015.

Further information

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