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Improving mental health and well-being

Briege Quinn 12 Apr 2022

With significant demand for services and high levels of vacancies in the nursing workforce, mental health services were under significant strain before the pandemic. 

Now there is growing evidence around the impact of the pandemic on mental health. Of particular concern are the adverse effects on children and young people, and on those who are economically disadvantaged. It is therefore vital that mental health services are prioritised as part of the recovery and rebuilding of health and social care services.


This, in turn, requires investment in the mental health nursing workforce. The Department of Health estimates that demand for health and social care services increases by around 5-6% each year. However, over the last decade, the number of mental health nurses employed by the HSC has grown by just 2%. It is easy, therefore, to see the reason for the gap in capacity to meet the mental health needs of the people of Northern Ireland. The mental health strategy published last year has the potential to make a lasting difference but it requires long-term funding and the right numbers of mental health nurses working in the right areas to deliver care and preventative interventions.


The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health and well-being of nurses themselves has been devastating. According to the 2021 RCN Employment Survey, more than half (55.9%) of nursing staff in Northern Ireland say they are either planning to leave or thinking of leaving their job. Of these, 40.9% say that this is because of their own stress levels. A very worrying three-quarters (75.7%) of nursing staff say they have worked at some point during the last year when they should have taken sick leave, with 38% of these nurses citing their own mental health issues.


A healthy society requires a healthy population. That, in turn, depends on having a healthy workforce. The RCN is calling on all candidates and political parties to prioritise mental health and well-being issues during this Assembly election campaign and, more importantly, during the months and years ahead.

Briege Quinn

Briege Quinn

RCN Northern Ireland Board member

Page last updated - 12/04/2022