Registered Mental Health Nurses (RMNs) play a pivotal role in caring for patients with mental health issues, from those in acute mental hospitals to dementia patients and those living with long-term conditions in the community.
The NHS recently announced new proposed standards for mental health care in England, which will impact waiting times for patients.
This is good news for patients and is a positive step towards mental health care being prioritised in the same way as physical health. With 1 in 4 people experiencing mental health issues in their lifetime, the need for better mental health care is clear.
However, mental health services in England are stretched more than ever before due to Covid-19. Current data shows 1 in 69 calls to 999 are now due to mental health issues.
We’re looking at how these new standards might affect mental health nurses on the frontline of patient care.
What does a mental health nurse do?
A mental health nurse’s role is to support people who suffer from mental health conditions with recovery from, or long-term management of, their illness.
They can work with patients of all ages, from children and young people right through to elderly patients in dementia care.
The day-to-day role of a mental health nurse is exceptionally varied, and no two days are the same. Nurses can work in a variety of settings, including:
Community – Working with patients and their families at home or in supported living settings.
Primary care – Working in medical centers to support GP practices can also be linked to community nursing.
Hospitals – Working in specialist mental health hospitals for children or adults suffering from acute mental health illnesses.
Prisons – Working with prisoners to support their mental health while in prison, including writing care plans, administering medications, and discussing treatment options.
Education – A multi-faceted role working in schools offering support and guidance to students on various issues around their well-being, relationships, and holistic assessments of children’s overall mental and physical health.
No matter where a mental health nurse works, the key to their success is building trusting relationships with their patients. They are working with people in highly vulnerable conditions and so need to work closely and safely with patients.
They also work with a wider team of GPs, psychiatrists, social workers, and other professions to monitor their patient’s condition and continually assess if they are at risk of harming themselves or others.
It takes a combination of clinical and soft skills to be a mental health nurse, including compassion, empathy, communication, and interpersonal skills, to maintain a strong working relationship with their patients. The role is complex, challenging, and critical.
What are the new proposed plans?
In July 2021, the NHS set out new plans to improve patient access to mental health services. The plans aim to bring mental health services in line with physical health.
The plans are part of the NHS Long Term Plan, published in 2019, which set out priorities for the NHS over the next 10 years. But what are new proposed plans for mental health services?
There are five new waiting proposed standards that mental health services need to meet. These are:
1 –Patients with an ‘urgent’ referral for community-based mental health crisis services should be seen within 24 hours of referral.
2 –Patients with a ‘very urgent’ referral for community-based mental health crisis services should be seen within 4 hours of referral.
3 –Patients referred from A&E should be seen face to face within one hour by mental health liaison or children and young people‘s equivalent service
4 –Children, young people, and their families/carers presenting to community-based mental health services should receive care within four weeks of referral. ‘Care’ includes immediate advice, support or intervention, help to access a more appropriate service, the start of a longer-term intervention, or the beginning of a specialist assessment.
5 –Adults and older adults presenting to community-based mental health services should start to receive help within four weeks from referral.
How will this affect mental health nurses?
The new proposals outlined by the NHS are a positive step forward for mental health care, but what does it mean for nurses?
The number of Registered Mental Health Nurses in the UK has dropped by 8% in the 10 years up to June 2020. This inevitably means that those still in the role will be facing more demands on their time with more targets to reach.
These statistics for RMNs are felt even more acutely alongside the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health services. It’s estimated that around 10 million more people in England will need mental health support over the next 3 – 5 years as a direct result of the pandemic.
The new NHS targets for decreased waiting times are coming at a challenging time, though they are also desperately needed.
If the new targets are met, it will help relieve the pressure on some mental health services and nurses. Reducing waiting times for referrals means patients can receive treatment sooner and be less likely to have serious mental health complications later down the line. This means fewer hospital stays and fewer patients needing long-term community support.
Can the targets be met and improve patient care given the current circumstances? Two things must be tackled quickly for this to happen; more mental health nurses need to be recruited, and current RMNs need support to stay in the job.
Like all NHS staff, mental health nurses are under intense pressure and stress, and these new targets will inevitably increase the demands put upon them. To meet the new targets, they will need increased support to keep them physically and mentally well so they can continue to do their job.