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Mental health nursing: a profession with an image problem?

Outdated stereotypes could be deterring potential recruits

Nuffield Trust think tank calls for action to attract more people to the profession

The public has misconceptions about the work of mental health nurses, according to the Nuffield Trust report Picture: iStock

Negative stereotypes of mental health nursing are putting people off joining the profession, a report states.

The Laying Foundations: Attitudes and access to mental health nurse education report from the Nuffield Trust think tank, found the public has a distorted view of the profile of service users.

There was a perception that the role is predominantly focused on working with potentially dangerous people with serious mental health conditions in forensic settings, and therefore more emotionally demanding, the report reads.

Potential mental health nurses are put off by outdated stereotypes

Nuffield Trust think tank calls for action to attract more people to the profession

The public has misconceptions about the work of mental health nurses,
according to the Nuffield Trust report Picture: iStock

Negative stereotypes of mental health nursing are putting people off joining the profession, a report states.

The Laying Foundations: Attitudes and access to mental health nurse education report from the Nuffield Trust think tank, found the public has a distorted view of the profile of service users.

‘There was a perception that the role is predominantly focused on working with potentially dangerous people with serious mental health conditions in forensic settings, and therefore more emotionally demanding,’ the report reads.

Potential mental health nurses are put off by outdated stereotypes

Billy Palmer, senior Nuffield Trust fellow

Nuffield Trust senior fellow, Billy Palmer, said the government needed to act to meet the demand for mental health nurses.

‘Potential recruits to important roles including mental health nurses are being put off by outdated stereotypes and a lack of understanding of the breadth and benefits of these roles,’ he said.

‘The reality is that the health service is not keeping pace with the number of qualified nurses needed to meet this demand.’

School careers advisers unaware of support available to mental health nursing students

The report recommends stakeholders including the RCN, NHS England and NHS Improvement, universities, and Health Education England define clearly the role of mental health nursing and produce up-to-date materials to promote the profession.

It also recommended better communication of new grants available for nursing students, after finding careers advisers in schools were unaware of them.

Catherine Gamble, RCN mental health lead

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the government was committed to expanding mental health nursing numbers through its grants, citing the £1,000 given to new mental health nursing students, and the training and parental support grants offer to all nursing students in England.

‘One way to show mental health nurses are valued is to pay them more’

RCN professional lead for mental health, Catherine Gamble, agreed that more needed to be done to promote the contribution of mental health nurses, but said pay was one simple way to show how they were valued.

‘One way to recognise the true value of mental health nursing is for the government to give nursing staff an early pay rise of 12.5% that recognises their skills, responsibilities and experience,’ she said.

NHS data show there were 9,924 full-time-equivalent mental health nursing vacancies in England’s NHS in June 2020.


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