The number of mental health nurses in England has slumped by more than a tenth over the past decade, The Guardian reports figures have revealed. This is despite commitments from both Theresa May and despite her predecessor, David Cameron, to boost resources for mental health services, which many medical professionals say are now in crisis.
The total mental health nursing workforce has decreased by 10.6% since 2009, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
The report says while numbers of mental health nurses have grown in some areas, such as community care, they have fallen elsewhere. Numbers are down by a quarter (25.9%) in acute care and inpatient care – where the number of mental health nurses has fallen by more than 6,000 over the decade.
Donna Kinnair, appointed as RCN CEO and general secretary last month said: “Thousands of experienced professionals have been lost in recent years as the investment failed to match the rhetoric. The shortage of beds, too, leaves vulnerable people often sent hundreds of miles from home and their loved ones for the care they need. As a country and a health service, we are letting down people who must be able to rely on us most. We must draw a line under this and allocate serious resources to mental health care, including the right number of staff.”
The report says a drive to recruit more mental health specialists as part of the long-term National Health Service (NHS) plan announced earlier this year supports premiums for undergraduates studying the subject or learning disability nursing. The scheme targets mature students and aims to have an additional 4,000 people in training by 2023-24.
Health Department officials said they were aware of the challenges involved in recruiting the numbers needed to meet targets for improving mental health care. Applications for nursing degree courses have plummeted by 32% since bursaries were scrapped in England in 2016.
The report says the RCN figures demonstrate the continuing pressures on the NHS. There are also complaints that major delays to government plans to tackle adult social care are adding to those pressures. According to information released to Labour under the Freedom of Information Act, more than 28,000 people are sent into residential care away from their home area every year – in one case a person was more than 500 miles from their home authority. The research found that working age adults are disproportionately likely to be sent away for care, with more than one in three being in a care home outside their home area.
A department spokesperson said: “Expanding the mental health workforce across the NHS is a key priority and we’re committed to recruiting and retaining nurses – part of our plan to transform mental health provision with an additional £2.3bn a year investment as set out in the NHS Long Term Plan.
“We’re supporting students to embark on more flexible undergraduate degrees in mental health or learning disability training with an ambition of an extra 4,000 people in training in five years’ time.”The Guardian report