Number of specialist mental health nurses drops by 10%

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

The country’s mental health nurse workforce has shrunk by 10% in the last five years despite what appears to be increasing demand for the services they offer. This reduction in staff down from 41,320 in 2010 to 36,870 today shows a mental health sector with seemingly less staff than is required to meet demand.

Interestingly the number of people that have been in contact with NHS funded mental health services has increased almost consistently year on year but the number of admissions has fallen. Whether this is demonstrative of the inability to cater for the mentally unwell or an increased ability to do more with less is difficult to quantify. That said there is a feeling that there is much less spent on mental health services than their ‘physical health’ counterparts and the government is at pains to rebalance this funding gap.

Whilst work is being done to attempt to address the shortfall in mental health nursing staff this only accounts to an additional 100 staff being trained each year. This doesn’t appear sufficient to deal with the levels of demand for mental health services. The Royal College of Nursing found this month that NHS mental health trusts were some of the most understaffed units across the NHS with some trusts having as much as 1 in 4 posts vacant.

One of the reasons for the reduction in mental health nursing staff is the removal of the student nurse bursary which will be converted to a loan. This may push prospective mental health nurses away from joining the profession further.

Howard Catton, Head of Policy and international, Royal College of Nursing said: –

“There are serious questions about how mental health services can be delivered when the number of mental health nurses is still declining. These nurses are the quiet heroes of mental health services, helping people in crisis and keeping people as well as possible.”

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