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Mental health nursing risks being ‘lost’ as a profession, report says

Urgent steps needed to attract and retain more nurses, says review that calls for supported professional development, career progression and incentives to stay
Image depicting a magnet attracting figures representing nurses

Urgent steps needed to attract and retain more nurses, says review that calls for supported professional development, career progression and incentives to stay

Mental health nursing will be ‘lost’ as a profession unless urgent steps are taken to attract and retain more nurses, a major review has found.

The review by Health Education England (HEE) outlined eight system-wide recommendations aimed at reducing mental health nurse shortages, including supported professional development, career progression and incentives to stay in the profession.

Despite the number of people accepted onto mental health nursing courses rising by two-thirds since 2015 there were still about 11,300 nursing vacancies at mental health trusts in England in December.

Urgent steps needed to attract and retain more nurses, says review that calls for supported professional development, career progression and incentives to stay

Image depicting a magnet attracting figures representing nurses
Image: iStock

Mental health nursing will be ‘lost’ as a profession unless urgent steps are taken to attract and retain more nurses, a major review has found.

The review by Health Education England (HEE) outlined eight system-wide recommendations aimed at reducing mental health nurse shortages, including supported professional development, career progression and incentives to stay in the profession.

Despite the number of people accepted onto mental health nursing courses rising by two-thirds since 2015 there were still about 11,300 nursing vacancies at mental health trusts in England in December. Leaver rates have risen to 6.9% – the highest level in five years – adding further risk that vacant posts will not be filled by nurses.

The review, chaired by Baroness Watkins of Tavistock, warned that if steps are not taken immediately ‘there is a high risk that this profession will be lost’.

It stressed the need to invest in and enlarge the workforce but said that cannot be achieved without further understanding of the current workforce issues and what is needed for the future.

Specialist mental health services in England received more than 4.3 million referrals in 2021

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock
Baroness Mary Watkins Picture: Stockbyte

Baroness Watkins said: ‘The final recommendations clearly demonstrate what can be done to ensure that mental health nursing thrives and is sufficiently robust to provide high quality care to the populations it serves.’

Other recommendations include ensuring mental health nurses are supported and developed when transitioning from being a student, giving them a say in how services are delivered and identifying core skills to match patient demand.

HEE chief nurse Mark Radford said mental health nurses’ expertise and skills have a ‘life-changing’ impact on patients.

‘For decades, this profession has been a critical part of our national health and social care system – so it is therefore vital that we look at the challenges facing our nurses and what can be done to address them,’ he said.

Specialist mental health services in England received more than 4.3 million referrals in 2021, including more than a million for children. This is up from 3.8 million the previous year.

The spike in referrals prompted an urgent warning from the RCN that more mental health nurses are needed to provide specialist care.

The Department of Health and Social Care has committed to an additional £2.3 billion a year into mental health services by 2023-24, with the aim of recruiting an extra 27,000 mental health professionals by the same time.


Find out more

Commitment and Growth: advancing mental health nursing now and for the future (Health Education England)

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