Supporting Nurses’ Mental Health – opening doors to improvement

Nurses mental health - a doorway

“Opening Doors – addressing the mental health of nurses and their patients” was the ambitious target of a webinar by C3 Collaborating for Health in which I participated this month.   

C3 is an inspiring charity that I have written about before, which campaigns to raise awareness of causes of early death, disability and illness.  

The webinar event was organised around a critical topic: the mental health of more than 650,000 nurses that work in our NHS.  

Chairing the event was Tom Sandford, C3’s Associate for mental health is a former executive director of the Royal College of Nursing England. The panel I joined included Catherine Gamble, the Royal College of Nursing’s Mental Health Adviser; Yvonne Coghill, the RCN’s Deputy President, known for her work on diversity and inclusion; Jocelyn Cornwell, CEO of the Point of Care Foundation and Michaela Nuttall, C3’s Associate of Nursing.  

The live broadcast drew a strong audience on the day, and will soon be available in a recorded form a future CPD resource.  

Discussion around the health of nurses was sobering. It directly impacts improvements in patient care, organisational efficiency and the achievement of regulatory targets. Yet it still remains a huge challenge, ten full years on from the NHS Staff Health and Wellbeing event that I chaired in 2009.  

Doing better to support nurses’ mental health 

The Stevenson-Farmer Review “Thriving at Work” which explored how employers can better support employees, including those with mental health issues, reminded us starkly that we shouldn’t just consider mental ill health in relation to those that cannot work.  

We must remember the very significant number of people with long-term mental health conditions that remain in work and, to put it plainly, are left to struggle on.  

When we consider this in relation to our thousands of incredibly busy nurses, often working shifts, determined to deliver patient care despite frequent resourcing issues, this risk cannot be good for patient care.  It fails also to meet an important opportunity: for all NHS workers to be recognised as ambassadors of good health and good work.   

Transforming NHS staff health and wellbeing support is vital  

The work underway to transform the NHS in the new strategic plan will only succeed if the NHS is able to transform the way it supports its staff. This does require significant culture change: whilst there are pockets of excellence, NHS working conditions continue to place high demands on staff, set sometimes unattainable expectations and can create working conditions that are adverse to mental wellbeing.  

The most recent NHS Staff Survey continues to show high rates of distress, despite many actions taken in recent years, and bullying and harassment concerns are unacceptably high. 

The adage says that “cobblers’ children” have no shoes. It is unacceptable that NHS nurses are not supported better to sustain their mental wellbeing.   It is time to act.