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Mental health nurses 'lack confidence' in physical care

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Academics have called for a “new phase of mental health nursing research” that is focused on the training needed for these nurses to deliver physical health care.

They made the appeal after carrying out a review of current literature that explores the attitudes, experience and knowledge held by mental health nurses around routine physical care of patients.

“Now time for a new phase for mental health nursing research related to physical healthcare”

Study authors

Their review, published in the journal BMC Nursing, included more than 40 studies conducted over the last 25 years with contributions from 7,549 mental health nurses in 14 countries, including the UK, Australia, the US, Hong Kong, Belgium, Turkey and Jordan.

It is believed to be one of the largest amalgamations of research about mental health nurses’ experiences of any single subject ever published.

The report noted how the physical health of patients with a mental disorder had been “prioritised” in recent years and had been made a focus in guidelines for mental health nurses.

People with a diagnosed mental health diagnosis die on average 10.1 years earlier than the general population. 

The review, carried out by mental health nursing academics, from Western Sydney University in Australia and Abertay University in Dundee, found mental health nurses saw physical health care as a key part of their role.

However, it said a “lack of confidence, skills, and knowledge” among nurses working in mental health settings were ”key barriers” to them carrying out this work.

“Efforts must be redoubled to focus on developing and testing interventions to improve nurses’ attitudes”

Study authors

The review found a scarcity of studies exploring the effectiveness of training for mental health nurses in physical healthcare – and called for this to be redressed. 

Mental health nurses “well-recognise” their requirement for further skills and knowledge in this area but “ambivalence and reluctance remains about embracing the change needed to achieve this”, the review article said.

“Our conclusion is that it is now time for a new phase for mental health nursing research related to physical healthcare: efforts must be redoubled to focus on developing and testing interventions to improve nurses’ attitudes, knowledge, and skills,” the report said.

“We must ensure that new studies are well-designed and rigorously conducted,” it said. “More specifically, further research is required to build knowledge about whether the supposed benefits arising from this relationship translate into objectively better practice and indeed better patient outcomes.

“This would strengthen the case for training to improve attitudes and provide some urgency to better understand what interventions might deliver that outcome,” the article noted.

The review also uncovered “consistent evidence” showing a “strong association” between the attitude of mental health nurses and the extent to which they got involved in physical health care.

However, it said attitudes “differed significantly” in nurses from different parts of the world, noting how this “may well reflect different approaches to mental health nurse preparation”.

For example, it highlighted that in Australia all pre-registration nurses did the same core programme, whereas in the UK mental health nursing was its own specialist branch.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • and also needed is research that shows general nurses are not skilled in mental health nursing. 'Comprehensive' nursing in Australia in practice means that users of mental health services get a poorer quality of care when their nurse has only received a few weeks of overview of mental health in their pre-registration course.

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