RCN Wales welcomes the theme “loneliness” for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (9 - 15 May 2022). It could not be timelier for those experiencing severe and enduring mental illness who continue to be subjected to the most significant health inequalities.
Welsh citizens who require inpatient care at times of severe distress frequently find themselves being shipped off miles away from their homes and loved ones, to independent/ private mental health care providers who ultimately make a profit from our most vulnerable, compromised individuals.
What could be a more lonely and frightening experience and how can this still be happening in Wales in 2022?
In April 2022 NHS Wales National Collaborative Commissioning Unit published its review of “Patients Cared for in Secure Mental Health Hospitals ‘Making Days Count’, which highlights key issues about the care and treatment of individuals admitted securing hospitals. The report noted that we have more people with severe mental health problems being cared for in non-NHS hospitals (56.4%) than being cared for in NHS Wales Hospitals (43.6%). The report also noted that between 10–20% of patients stay 5 years or longer in secure hospitals with the additional costs for NHS Wales in the year 2020 of all placements in secure hospitals being £85 million. This is the result of years of underinvestment in NHS Mental Health Services in Wales. Whilst the emphasis has been on improving primary and community mental health care the opposite has been the case for inpatient services.
In addition to the failures to invest in Mental Health In patient estates there has also been a significant lack of investment into mental health nursing. Whilst the actual vacancy rates for mental health nurses remain elusive due to the Welsh Government failure to publish the data for nurse vacancies in the NHS at a national level, we know that vacancy rates are high with increasing numbers of nurses leaving the workforce, if there is not an immediate review of the mental health nurse workforce in Wales there is a high risk the profession will be lost. The RCN believes this area of clinical care should be a priority for the extension of Section 25B. The findings of the Tawel Fan report in September 2014 demonstrated the horrific impact on patient care that results when lack of funding, lack of sufficient staff, lack of skills in the workforce and lack of leadership all combine and yet are left unaddressed by management.
Whilst we appalled at the lack on clinically informed planning for the future of mental health services in Wales, we are more appalled at the lack of understanding, compassion, and neglect for those who don`t appear to have a voice and are generally rejected from NHS mental health services in Wales.
The complete devastation of not only experiencing severe mental health problems but then being sent far from home for months or even years must be one of the most isolating, lonely experiences a person can be subjected to. It must feel like a punishment for being mentally ill and being sent away with no rights.
If we are to ensure that people experiencing severe mental health problems receive safe, high quality, evidence-based care we must continue to grow and develop the mental health nursing workforce in Wales.