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Nurses asked for views on raising status of mental health

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The Royal College of Nursing is asking mental health nurses what needs to change in order to ensure mental and physical health are given the same priority and importance in the NHS.

The college today launched a major consultation on the steps needs to ensure equality between mental and physical health, which is open to all members working in mental health settings.

“A commitment to bring about equality between mental and physical health is absolutely the right thing”

Tim Coupland

It said those working on the frontline of mental health were ideally placed to help identify some of the key issues getting in the way of so-called “parity of esteem”. Responses to the survey would shape the college’s work in this area, it said.

Governments in all four UK countries have signed up to the concept of parity of esteem but the RCN said progress had been slow, despite clear evidence that people with complex mental health problems had poorer physical health and died up to 20 years sooner than the general population.

At the RCN’s annual congress last year, members condemned the lack of progress when it came to achieving true equality for mental health.

In response, the college launched a new programme of work to shape and influence ongoing efforts to achieve parity of esteem.

The consultation is part of this work and features a series of key questions for mental health nursing teams, including how successful their local NHS services have been when it comes to delivering mental health equality.

Those who take part in the survey will be asked to flag up the most important things they think will make a difference to mental health equality in their own organisations and more widely across the UK.

“The answers we get to all these questions will help shape our work on the parity of esteem agenda”

Tim Coupland

The survey also includes questions on how well services are meeting the physical health needs of people with mental health problems.

Tim Coupland, who heads up the RCN’s parity of esteem programme, said more work was needed to achieve genuine equality.

“A commitment to bring about equality between mental and physical health is absolutely the right thing and all RCN members working in mental health settings wouldn’t disagree with that objective,” he said.

“But the NHS still hasn’t got to the point where people with mental health problems get the same access to care, and the same standards of care, as people trying to get treatment for a physical health problem,” he said. “Much more is needed.”

Mr Coupland said staff working in mental health settings were in a good position to identify the main barriers to parity of esteem and urged as many as possible to complete the survey.

“Nursing staff working in mental health are extremely well-placed to help us examine why progress hasn’t been as fast as we would all like,” he said.

For example, he questioned whether it was “simply a case of insufficient funding and staff”, whether changes to service structures and pathways were needed, or if legislation was required.

“The answers we get to all these questions will help shape our work on the parity of esteem agenda in the next few years, and will play a vital part in the college’s future campaigning,” he added.

Nurses have until 16 May to complete the survey, which will be emailed to all RCN members working in mental health settings.

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