New approach needed to retain and recruit mental health nurses

The UK government needs an entirely new approach that prioritises retention as well as recruitment to arrest the alarming decline in mental health nurse numbers.

The Guardian reports the number of mental health nurses in England has decreased by 10.6% since 2009, according figures from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

The figures show while numbers of mental health nurses are on the rise in some areas, such as community care, they have fallen by a quarter (25.9%) in acute care and in-patient care – where the number of mental health nurses is down by more than 6,000 over the last decade.

Olivia Spruce, CEO at healthcare recruiter Positive Healthcare, told Recruiter the findings were unsurprising given current challenges in filling general nurse vacancies.

“Yesterday the RCN published the statistics that there are currently 40,000 unfilled general nurse vacancies within the UK. 

“This is a much wider problem than one that is exclusive to mental health services. To read that the mental health nursing workforce has decreased by 10.6% since 2009, particularly when it is widely publicised that mental health issues are on the increase, needs to be acknowledged and recognised as an absolute staffing crisis. We constantly see these alarming statistics followed immediately by plans and drives to ‘recruit more nurses’ across all healthcare sectors. 

“Frankly speaking, it clearly isn’t working. A totally fresh approach is required not only around the attraction of new talent, but also the retention of existing talent. Low morale must be directly addressed. Positive Healthcare is hearing many examples of where talented and experienced professionals are leaving the sector. 

“Ultimately many nurses are working within an inadequately staffed, over-political and ultimately broken system. This fact can no longer be avoided by ‘ambitious’ plans, which just don’t generate the numbers of nurses needed.

Meanwhile, Paul McQue, managing director at healthcare recruiter MPA Recruitment, accused the government of making nursing financially unviable by removing the study bursary two years ago, which he says has contributed to the 12% drop in nursing student numbers.

“The biggest concern is that ‘mature students’ can no longer consider full-time study without such bursary and that needs to be tackled swiftly by government.”

McQue added his agency tries to make its recruitment processes as “slick and streamlined” as possible, while also offering free training and clearance checks, which are usually paid for by the nurses themselves.

“This shortage has been all the more evident in the 40% drop in the last two years. Their life skills and lessons are valuable in the field of mental health nursing but if they don’t feel valued for what they do, then they simply won’t pursue it.’’

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