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New guidance for mental health nurses to address physical health needs

A resource for mental health nurses to help treat physical and mental health needs holistically has been released by the Department of Health

A resource for mental health nurses to help treat physical and mental health needs holistically has been released by the Department of Health.

A number of action areas such as smoking cessation, obesity, alcohol abuse, physical activity, dental health and medication adherence were highlighted as key areas where mental health nurses can make a significant impact.

Each area outlines why mental health nurses need to take action, the steps they can take with patients to help them and links to other resources for further support. The document aims to ensure that people with mental illness have the same level of access to physical health checks as the rest of the population.

Ian Hulatt, the professional lead for mental health nursing at the RCN, said that this was a very welcome document to inform and develop practice in this area. 'Mental health nurses are already aware that physical health problems are a concern in their clients and this document will help to support them. Mental health nurses are making real in-roads in patients with things like tobacco dependency and they are making a positive impact in reducing these rates.This document will continue to support that.'

The resource identifies that mental health nurses can work in partnership with other organisations, to make connections and referrals to ease transition across inpatient and community care, health and social care, specialist and community services.

'Mental health nurses have unparalleled opportunities to help people improve their physical health alongside their mental health, both in inpatient settings and in the community. Building on their skills and knowledge this resource will assist mental health nurses to identify the key risk factors that are known to adversely affect the physical health of people with mental health problems,' said minister of state for community and social care Alistair Burt in the introduction to the resource.

'This resource is a significant step forward encouraging mental health nurses to take an active role to ensure people’s physical health needs are assessed and responded to. Drawing on the available evidence it will improve the monitoring of and reduction of the risk factors that have a detrimental effect on people’s physical health and ultimately reduce health inequalities,' Mr Burt added.

Mr Hulatt added that resources will need to be put in place to support nurses in these interventions as well as ensuring there is a high level of skilled nurses.

The resource reinforced commitments by the Department of Health to join up physical and mental healthcare. This included an agreement by NHS England that by 2020/21 at least 280,000 more people living with severe mental health problems should have their physical health needs met.

People with serious mental illnesses die on average 15 to 20 years earlier than other people. This is mostly due to physical health problems which are often missed or lifestyle factors that can negatively impact on physical health.