Exclusive: Nurses tackle poor physical health among people with severe mental health conditions

Scheme aims to reduce 20-year mortality gap between this patient group and the rest of the population.

Nurses are leading a programme to tackle physical health issues among people with severe mental health conditions.

Director of nursing Claire Johnston says the scheme will improve quality of life for service users

Mental health nurses at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust in London are working on a scheme that will combine mental and physical health assessments.

The aim is to narrow the estimated 20-year mortality gap between patients with severe mental illness and the rest of the population.

Nurses are being trained in assessing and treating physical health conditions such as diabetes and lung disease, which can be more prevalent among people with serious mental health conditions.

The skills will enable staff to undertake physical health screening and assessments alongside their mental health care duties.

Previous lack of support

Trust director of nursing Claire Johnston said: ‘For too long, people with mental illness have struggled to get proper advice and support for their physical health concerns, including diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and smoking – and they have died too early from preventable diseases. 

'With our new tools and training for nursing staff, we will be able to improve quality of life for service users and their families.’

The nurses’ training progress is noted in their ‘physical health skills passport’ documents.

Setting targets

Through the scheme the trust aims to:

  • Reduce the suicide rate among psychosis patients by 20% by 2022.
  • Cut the percentage of people smoking by 2% a year by 2020.
  • Carry out widespread screening for diabetes to tackle the prevalence of the condition among people with severe mental health conditions.

Hannah Perryman, a return-to-practice nurse with previous acute psychiatric and community mental health experience, supports the integration of physical and mental health.

She has recently complemented her existing physical health skills with training in blood-testing service users who attend community well-being clinics. 

Ms Perryman said: ‘We have an obligation to ensure the overall welfare of our service users. With the right approach and structure, we are in a strong position to make a major contribution to their physical health care.’

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