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NHS improvement boosts mental health nursing

Tagged In:  Mental Health

The regulator has made four new senior-level appointments to deliver more intensive support for NHS mental health nursing services across England.

"We must provide equal status to mental and physical health, equal status to mental health staff and equal funding for mental health services as part of a triple approach to improve mental health care." That was one of the key conclusions in the Mental Health Taskforce's Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, published in 2016.

A key contributor to this strategy document is one of four new appointees to the nursing directorate at NHS Improvement, the regulator responsible for overseeing foundation trusts and NHS trusts. Formerly Deputy Head of Mental Health and Adult Mental Health Programme Lead at NHS England, Sarah Khan takes on the role of Head of Delivery for Mental Health. The other new recruits are mental health nurse Andy Brogan as Associate National Clinical Director for Mental Health, and two psychiatrists, Dr David Fearnley and Dr Mike Hunter, who have become Deputy and Associate National Clinical Director respectively. 

They join three existing team members: Executive Nursing Director Dr Ruth May, Director of Nursing for Professional Leadership Jacqueline McKenna and Director of Nursing for Improvement Mark Radford. There are also newly appointed expert advisors for learning disability, medicine and pharmaceutical services, older people’s mental health and dementia, patient safety, and urgent and emergency care.

As well as ensuring that mental and physical health services are brought closer together, the team will be working closely with NHS England to reduce the stigma of mental health and inequalities in care.

One in four adults experiences at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any given year and the cost to the UK economy is estimated at £105 billion per year. However, 75% of people with mental health issues receive no support at all. Mental health problems disproportionately affect the poor, the unemployed and vulnerable groups of people.

In November 2016 health minister Philip Dunne confirmed that the number of mental health nurses working in the NHS in England had fallen by 15% since 2010. Mental health hospitals have seen the biggest fall in nursing staff, with numbers dropping from 24,581 in 2010 to 19,170 in 2016. However, the Department of Health said that the mental health workforce was being boosted by the training and recruitment of more junior doctors and consultant psychiatrists, and that mental health nurse training places are growing at a faster rate than any other nursing speciality in the NHS.

The Conservative's 2017 Election Manifesto contained a pledge to recruit up to 10,000 more mental health professionals. Although the accompanying commitment to reform mental health legislation was maintained, there was no mention of the extra 10,000 mental health staff in the Queen's Speech on 21 June.

90% of adults with severe mental health problems are supported by community services and the NHS Improvement team will focus on improving access to community care. At the heart of this strategy is the nation's cohort of community psychiatric nurses, whose vital contribution has often been overlooked or undervalued. Problems in recruitment of community mental health nurses over the last few years has put added pressure on what was an already overstretched section of the NHS workforce.

The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health calls for more multi-disciplinary teams, including psychiatrists, community psychiatric nurses, psychologists, occupational therapists and social workers.

"I am delighted that our team at NHS Improvement has grown," said Dr May, "because we must play our part to support the delivery of compassionate, safe and effective care to people with mental health and learning disability needs."

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