The King’s Fund think tank has released figures which suggest that the number of mental health nurses working within the NHS has fallen by 15% since the turn of the decade.
Furthermore, 20% of job vacancies in the sector remain unfilled.
This is considered particularly serious as community-based teams account for 97% of mental health patients, with nurses playing a pivotal role in developing trust between patients and their families.
Helen Gilburt, a fellow in health policy at the King’s Fund, suggested that community mental health teams play a key role in patient well-being.
“Community mental health teams are supporting people to stay well, so if you haven’t got sufficient workforce to deliver that care, people are more likely to relapse.”
The ageing workforce is contributing to the shortage of nurses, with those leaving the profession not being replaced quickly enough.
Already three years ago, around one-third of mental health nurses were aged over 50, and the abolition of the bursaries since then is causing further concern regarding recruitment.
This has resulted in nurses working within the NHS taking on a larger workload in many cases.
Research conducted internally indicated that committee mental health coordinators have a caseload as high as 50 patients in some regions.
Ben Hannigan, reader in mental health, learning disabilities and psychosocial care at Cardiff University, who co-authored the study, suggest that the current staffing information will inevitably impact on patient outcomes.
“You will firefight with that number of people – it’s very difficult to do all the things you would aspire to. And therapeutic care will be harder to provide.”
And a report authored by the Care Quality Commission in 2015 indicated that only 40% of mental health patients suggested they had received satisfactory care during a crisis time.
Moreover, a review of psychiatric care by the Commission on Acute Adult Psychiatric Care found that 16% of patients per ward could have been treated in an alternate setting.
Neil Brimblecombe, director of nursing at South London and Maudsley NHS foundation trust, believes that the community mental health workforce should include more peer workers with “lived experiences of mental health problems” and more occupational therapists.
“There will be an increasing range of new roles. The days when we have doctors, nurses and social workers, and that’s it, have gone,” Brimblecombe reflected.