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Exclusive: mental health nurses urge PM to tackle 'drastic decline' in workforce

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Mental health nurses are calling on the prime minister to acknowledge the “drastic decline” in their numbers in recent years and to “urgently” reverse cuts to the profession.

Union Unite, which includes the Mental Health Nurses Association, has written to Theresa May outlining its concerns in light of comments she made on Wednesday in the House of Commons about there being more nurses in hospitals than in 2010.

In its letter, the union said the situation was “starkly different” to the picture being described by the prime minister.

It said that since 2010, the number of whole-time equivalent mental health nurses in England had reduced by around 5,000 – or by 12%.

At the same time, the population of England had grown by 2.6 million – or 5% - said Unite.

“Since you became prime minister, you have often spoken about the burning injustice that is mental health treatment”

Unite letter to prime minister

It highlighted a survey of mental health nurses last summer which revealed 80% often experienced staffing shortages, 56% said they sometimes or frequently worked more than their contracted hours, and 81% had experienced work-related stress in the past year.

The union called for a number of steps to be taken to help increase the number of mental health nurses and improve services.

This included the introduction of safer staffing legislation in England and the reinstating of student bursaries.

It also called for the public sector pay cap – which limits annual pay rises to 1% - to be removed “as a matter of urgency”.

Meanwhile, funding for mental health services should be ring-fenced to ensure it reaches the frontline rather than being used to make up for cuts elsewhere within organisations, said the letter, signed by MHNA chair George Coxon and Unite lead professional officer for mental health Dave Munday.

“We would ask you to urgently reverse the cuts to mental health nursing, perpetrated since 2010”

Unite letter to prime minister

“Since you became prime minister, you, and your ministers, have often spoken about the burning injustice that is mental health treatment in England.

“We would ask you to urgently reverse the cuts to mental health nursing, perpetrated since 2010, if you truly believe your own words,” said the letter, which was sent yesterday.

Nursing Times contacted the Department of Health for comment but has yet to receive a response.

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