Late invite to summit shows lack of respect for mental health nursing, says RCN

College says it had to ask government for invite to Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit

College says it had to ask government for invite to Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit

RCN mental health forum chair Ed Freshwater. Picture: John Houlihan

The RCN had to ‘bang on the door’ to attend this week's inaugural global mental health summit, a leading nurse has told Nursing Standard.

RCN mental health forum chair Ed Freshwater said that despite specialist nurses forming the largest part of the mental health workforce, and the college being the world’s largest nursing union, the RCN was initially snubbed in the lead-up to the Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit in London.

‘It became clear that we hadn’t been invited,’ he said of the event, which ends today and has welcomed representatives from more than 50 countries. 

‘We hunted around to see if anyone had received a letter, an email, a phone call, a text message.

‘[But] after some sterling pressuring work from the team in London, eventually an invitation was forthcoming.’

The Department for Health and Social Care was contacted about the lack of initial engagement with the RCN but declined to comment.

Face-to-face care

Mr Freshwater said the late invitation highlighted the UK government’s failure to recognise the value of mental health nursing.

‘There are, at last count, nearly 37,000 mental health nurses in England alone,’ he said.

‘We deliver the face-to-face care that people rely on.’

At the summit launch yesterday, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock highlighted the UK government’s ambition to achieve parity between mental and physical health around the world.

However, Mr Freshwater argued that Mr Hancock should practice what he preached regarding mental health nursing.  

‘He goes on about parity of esteem for mental health and physical health, but he’s demonstrated a complete lack of esteem for the profession that delivers that care,’ he said.

‘I don’t see how the UK can for a second say they are leading the charge on delivering parity of esteem, when the investment in the workforce to provide that is simply not there.’

He cited the recruitment and retention ‘crisis’ facing the profession, with 5,000 fewer mental health nurses since 2010, and more than 7,000 mental health nurse vacancies in England.

Boosting support for the specialty

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, Mr Hancock acknowledged the need to improve mental health services.  

‘The truth is that, for an awfully long time, mental health has simply not had the same level of support – both in terms of resources and how we as a society talk about it – compared with physical health, and we want to change that,’ he said.

Focus on suicide prevention

On World Mental Health Day today, prime minister Theresa May announced the appointment of the UK’s first-ever minister for suicide prevention.

Health minister Jackie Doyle-Price will take on the role, and will lead a national effort to end the stigma that deters people from seeking help when facing mental health problems.

RCN professional lead for mental health Catherine Gamble, who has been attending functions at the summit, said: ‘This announcement goes some way towards treating people with severe mental illness on an equal footing with those experiencing physical health problems.’

Ms Gamble added: ‘Every nurse will encounter someone who is suicidal during their working life, and nurses can play a vital part in suicide prevention. However, they aren’t always being given the training they need to do so.

‘We want nursing degree courses to offer training in this vital area as soon as possible, and for employers to offer on-the-job training too.’ 

Other announcements on World Mental Health Day

  • Prime minister Theresa May announced funding of £1.8 million to ensure the charity Samaritans' helpline remains free for the next four years.

  • The Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health and Sustainable Development urged high-income countries, including those in the UK, to spend 10% of their healthcare budget on mental health. The commission warned that mental health disorders are expected to drain £12 trillion per year from the global economy by 2030.

  • Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS is not good enough at looking after the mental health of its employees. Mr Hancock said NHS staff can witness ‘some pretty traumatic things’ but are not always well-supported, and that this needs to change.


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