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More nurses needed to hit new mental health targets, says RCN


More nurses will be needed if the government is to sustain its newly announced waiting time targets for treating mental health conditions, the Royal College of Nursing has warned.

It highlighted the thousands of mental health nurses that have been lost over the past few years and the resulting shortage of staff, particularly in senior roles.

“It’s a brave ambition and we would support it, but it’s also about building capacity and having the people to deliver it”

Ian Hulatt

Last week deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced the first ever mental health waiting time standards for the NHS, as part of a new £120m funding package designed to help create parity with access to treatment for physical health conditions.

The new targets include 75% of people receiving talking therapies for anxiety and depression within six weeks of referral and 95% being treated within 18 weeks. In addition, the majority of people hit by psychosis for the first time should receive treatment within two weeks of referral.

The college said it welcomed the move but cautioned that there would need to be a recruitment drive if the government was to achieve its waiting time aims in the long term.

RCN mental health advisor Ian Hulatt warned that while in the short term other members of the mental health workforce could help to achieve the waiting time targets, which will be introduced from April 2015, it would be harder to sustain without further nurse recruitment.

Ian HulattIan Hulatt

“It’s a brave ambition and we would support it, but it’s also about building capacity and having the people to deliver it… Increasing undergraduate members and recruitment numbers is going to have an effect on the sustainability of this target,” said Mr Hulatt.

He added: “Let’s not forget, there have been about 3,000 mental health nurses jobs that have been lost – particularly nurses in the more senior bands.”

Chris Hart

Chris Hart

However, a nurse academic said Mr Clegg’s announcement “rang hollow” and claimed the £120m investment would have little impact on improving mental health services.

Most were “close to breaking point” due to budget cuts and the new investment was a “drop in the ocean”, warned Chris Hart, senior lecturer in mental health at the faculty of health, social care and education at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London.


Readers' comments (3)

  • And where was the RCN when MH nursing posts were being cut?

    I can't recall my local RCN branch doing any protesting when my trust was cutting nursing posts, including mine.

    Mind, I can say the same about Unison too...

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  • 1) Student Bursary/Grant needs sorting out. Part of the reason students were graduating with a dipHE rather than degree was due to the more favourable bursary for the former, which is a curious approach to staff recruitment. If I were to move away, my 'funding' would cover my rent, but no more.

    2) Need more PgDip/MSc pre-reg courses. I spent 15-yrs working all manner of working-class jobs. I paid p/time for my F.E courses, then completed a BA (hons). I later embarked on a dipHE nursing course that I was unable to complete. I am part-way through a MA course whilst being a Registered Carer, so not well-off. I would like to return to complete nursing, but would not want to sit through 6-mths of 'learning how to learn' as an Undergrad - i would sooner be a HCA/Support Worker, as I am not in it for the wage. Increase opportunities for education - more p/time pre-reg nursing courses, enabling mature students to work as HCAs.

    Those are a few things that would help mature students, and those with a wealth of academic and health & social care-related experience. Universities also give v. little away as to what it would be like in practical terms.

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  • As a mental health nurse due to retire in 2 years I welcome any change that will bring about improved access to mental health services but unfortunately feel this is very unrealistic ,what with cuts to services, redeployment of very experienced nurses ,some even losing their jobs .we need to bring back diploma nurses not academics to encourage those who have the knowledge,practical skills and hands on approach that we are losing

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