Prospective students may be put off a career in mental health nursing because of negative stereotypes, a report has warned.
The Nuffield Trust report published last week, Laying Foundations: Attitudes and access to mental health nurse education, talked to student nurses and other stakeholders to find ways to attract more people to mental health nursing.
Negative stereotypes about the profession, alongside regional variation in access to courses, could be behind the unsustainably low numbers of people joining the career, it concluded.
It warned: ‘In recent years, demand from prospective students to study mental health nursing has been unlikely to be sufficient to support a sustainable supply of qualified nurses into NHS-funded services.’
Attitudes towards mental health nursing included that mental health patients cannot be ‘cured’ and the profession largely involves working with dangerous people, it found.
These ‘inaccurate and negative perceptions of mental health patients and a lack of awareness of the mental health nurse role are possibly putting some people off the career,’ it added.
Mental health nursing is also doubly impacted by misconceptions of nursing as ‘less prestigious or academic compared to other professions’ and the ‘enduring stigma around mental health’.
To counteract negative stereotypes, ‘significant investment’ should be made ‘to promote the valuable contribution’ of mental health nurses during the Covid-19 pandemic, it recommended.
In addition, ‘detailed’ regional plans should be developed, which outline how to provide routes into mental health nursing.
Currently, only 37 universities have postgraduate mental health courses and 14 have duel mental health courses, meaning there ‘geographical distribution of courses’ is ‘unbalanced’.
In June 2010, the mental health nursing workforce stood at 40,547, but since has shrunk to 36,425, according to the latest NHS Digital data from June, the latest figures available.
The NHS Mental Health Implementation Plan, published last year, outlined the need for 4,220 more mental health nurses by 2024.
Nursing in Practice took an in-depth look at the impact of Covid-19 on nurses’ and healthcare staff mental health last month.