The current focus on acute hospital care in the wake of the Francis report may be robbing mental health services of their nurses.
Nearly 3,600 mental health nursing jobs have been lost in the past two years, which means service users are being put at risk.
Mental health has long felt like a Cinderella service, receiving little attention and less investment. But in the wake of Robin Williams’ tragic suicide, attention has at last focused on shortcomings in mental health care in the UK. The media has reported on the effects of funding cuts, and a bereaved father has spoken of the importance of early intervention in saving lives. His severely depressed son was told he would have to wait four months for psychological therapy. Instead he took his own life.
But judging from the health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s speeches and communications from the Department of Health and NHS England it seems their focus is firmly on acute care. In the post-Francis world, that’s sort of understandable. They are all trying hard to ensure there isn’t another scandal on the horizon. No one wants to see patients endure the suffering that went on at Mid Staffordshire.
“But while all eyes are on the hospital sector, what problems are we ignoring in mental health care?”
But while all eyes are on the hospital sector, what problems are we ignoring in mental health care? If people with serious conditions have to wait for months for treatment, or be placed hundreds of miles away from their families because no local beds are available, how can they be expected to recover quickly - or at all?
In such a climate, it is hardly surprising that suicide is the biggest cause of death in men aged under 50. While not all those who take their own lives will have a mental health diagnosis, it’s reasonable to assume that many do, and more would have if they were properly assessed. It’s also reasonable to assume that the early availability of local support would reduce the number of suicides.
Locally based and adequately resourced mental health services are vital. They provide support and a route to wellness, and save lives. Clinical commissioning groups under-resource that at their peril.
According to Mind, one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem at some time in their lives. This is not an area to cut. We should value mental health services and recognise their crucial role - after all, the lives saved could include any of us.
Stop sweeping mental health under the carpet, and focus on providing high-quality services, and that starts with the right number of nurses.
Jenni Middleton, editor
Follow me on Twitter: @nursingtimesed