Major HEE review recommends ways to develop the mental health nursing workforce

Posted: 25th April 2022

A range of recommendations to develop the mental health nursing workforce have been drawn up in a major review released by Health Education England (HEE).

The report outlines eight system-wide recommendations addressing issues including career progression and encouraging nurses to remain in the profession.

The number of people being accepted on to mental health nursing courses has risen by two thirds since 2015 – but there were more than 11,000 nursing vacancies at mental health trusts in England as of December.

The workforce review subgroup on mental health nursing in England, chaired by Baroness Watkins of Tavistock, established three “task and finish groups” of mental health nurses, clinical and policy experts, as well as people who have lived experience of mental illness and use of services, such as patients, families and carers.

These groups were asked to look at three key areas – mental health nursing and serious mental illness; children and young people’s mental health; and improving population and public health outcomes. Each group identified key issues faced by the profession and made recommendations to overcome them.

The recommendations included:

  • Ensuring mental health nurses are supported and developed when transitioning from student to newly registered nurse.
  • Making mental health nursing more of an attractive and accessible profession, with clear career development pathways and opportunities at all levels.
  • Supporting professional development so the workforce has time and access to high quality evidence-based training so they can learn and develop their practice and clinical skills wherever they are based.
  • Working closely with people who have experience of using services and giving them a say in how they are delivered.
  • Identifying and promoting the core skills of mental health nurses in all practice settings and in direct response to patients’ needs.
  • Addressing health inequalities and improving access to services for people from all backgrounds by developing “culturally competent” practice.
  • Making all mental health nursing roles representative of local populations, while valuing the strength of ethnic diversity at all career levels.
  • Developing mental health nurses as clinical academics and implementation scientists in every care provider organisation in England – supporting the development of new skills with a framework for career development.

Each set of recommendations is broken down into action points for areas of work – analysing where and how changes can be made, to guide future policy.

The review also stresses the importance of continuing to invest to grow and develop the mental health nursing workforce – and that further work is needed to gain a greater understanding of the current workforce and what is needed for the future.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock said: “It has been a privilege to chair this review, working with service users and senior mental health nurses to examine relevant literature and data to inform recommendations for the future development of the profession.

“The final recommendations clearly demonstrate what can be done to ensure that mental health nursing thrives and is sufficiently robust to provide high quality care to the populations it serves.

“I thank everyone who has given their time and expertise to the production of this report. I trust that it will inform future plans and investment for mental health nursing at such a crucial time for the profession and the NHS in general, to help ensure there are sufficient numbers of well-educated mental health nurses to meet the needs of the populations we serve today and in the future.”

Professor Mark Radford, Chief Nurse at HEE, said: “Mental health nursing is a phenomenal career that offers the expertise, knowledge and skills to have a life-changing impact on individuals and our communities.

“For decades, this profession has been a critical part of our national health and social care system – so it is therefore vital that we look at the challenges facing our nurses and what can be done to address them.

“In bringing together a wide range of service users and staff in a thorough review of the nature of mental health nursing, this review has highlighted areas for improvement and development that can be taken forward by the profession and other partners.”

The report – Commitment and Growth: Advancing Mental Health Nursing Now and for the Future – can be found here.

Source: NHS Health Education England

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