Mental health provision has returned to the crisis point it was in more 30 years ago, with nursing staff facing “intolerable pressures”, a leading mental health nursing expert has warned.
Cuts in funding and qualified staff – and the merging of some services – have contributed to strains on services at levels of severity not seen since the 1980s, according to Alan Simpson, professor of collaborative mental health nursing at City University London.
“We are returning to caseload figures and demands on services not seen since the 1980s”
His comments follow the publication of official figures in The Guardian newspaper showing a more than 10% drop in the number of qualified nurses working in psychiatry in the past five years.
The figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre were provided in response to a parliamentary question from Labour and show the number of psychiatric nurses fell from 41,320 in 2010 to 36,870 in 2015.
The number of nurses working in community psychiatry fell only slightly from 15,986 to 15,826. However those described as working in “other psychiatry” – mainly inpatient units – dropped from 25,334 to 21,044.
The stats support previous research by the Royal College of Nursing and others revealing significant reductions in mental health nursing posts and widespread staffing shortages at trusts.
Professor Simpson said he feared the sector had now reached a “tipping point”, where “the combination of pressures has pushed things too far for users of services, their families and the staff who try their hardest to provide quality services”.
Mental health nursing services now at ‘tipping point’
Recent research by City University into community mental health provision had uncovered deep fears about the impact of cuts as organisations strived to make savings, he added.
“Service users and carers want more contact with qualified care co-ordinators, not less and see the quality of those relationships as key to recovery, returning to work and living a full life,” said Professor Simpson, who called for urgent investment in the sector and better support for hard-pressed staff.
“Mental health nurses and other staff are now under intolerable pressures as we are returning to caseload figures and demands on services not seen since the 1980s,” he said.