Nurses have "considerable difficulty" spotting mental health problems such as depression and distress in patients, new research has suggested.
Dr Alex Mitchell, an honorary lecturer at the University of Leicester and Consultant in Psycho-oncology at Leicestershire Partnership Trust, said that his study shows how frontline nursing staff need better training to spot such mental health problems.
He added that nurses are "probably the most important group of health professionals" to deal with these complaints.
"Nurses are often very capable of forming good therapeutic relationships and provide a great deal of psychological support, which is highly valued," he said.
"However, their ability to do this is increasingly under pressure from high workloads and little funding for professional development."
Dr Mitchell added that 7,000 nurses and nursing assistants often miss the signs for depression in clinical settings.
He said: "Nurses working in hospital settings and nursing homes correctly identified about four out of 10 people with depression and practice nurses working in primary care correctly identified only one in four people with depression."
He said a second study looked at the ability of nurses to detect distressed patients and found half were missed until distress became severe.
"It may be unrealistic to expect nurses to remember complex criteria for detection of depression or to apply lengthy screening tools," he said.
"In the future we may focus more on who has impaired function and who needs help rather than depression alone."
Dr Mitchell's team is working on short, simple methods to identify mood problems and these can be freely accessed online.