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RCN survey reveals the significant inequalities in NHS mental health care

Around 95% of respondents to a new survey from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) believe that mental health care inequality exists

The RCN has called for governments across the UK to address the issue that is affecting the mental health of staff and mental health nursing vacancies. RCN Chief Nurse, Professor Nicola Ranger, said, ‘Despite many years of promises and commitments for equal treatment of physical and mental health care, nursing staff are seeing things heading in the wrong direction.’

The survey, which asked more than 4,000 nursing staff, was released as part of World Mental Health Day on 10 October. As well as most nursing staff acknowledging the inequality in mental health care, over half of those surveyed went on to say that it has worsened since the pandemic. Nursing staff reported that trying to find support ‘quickly feels like a losing battle’ as patients travel miles to receive mental health support, wait on month-long waiting lists, or resort to private healthcare. One respondent to the survey said that patients are provided with some good support, such as local initiatives and support groups but that ‘when referral onward is needed that things break down.’

The RCN wants governments across the UK to improve care by injecting more funding into mental health services and increasing the workforce. Professor Nicola Ranger said, ‘Governments across the UK are failing to provide the funding and resources that mental health care services need, with serious care consequences for patients and service users.’

In 2013, the constitution of NHS England changed to ensure physical and mental health care was treated equally. However, due to underfunding and underesourcing, nursing staff still feel that mental health remains ‘the poor relation in the NHS’. The number of vacancies within mental health nursing also doesn’t help the situation, as vacancies in the sector make up a third of all nursing vacancies in NHS England. Professor Nicola Ranger said, ‘This World Mental Health Day, we’re reminding governments why parity matters and to provide the funding, resources, and joined-up care between mental and physical health care that people desperately need.’