Nurses crucial in preventing early death for people with serious mental illness

21 May 2019

A new RCN report says nurses are best placed to help close the huge gap in life expectancy between people with serious mental illness and the rest of the population.

Nurse talking to male patient

According to the World Health Organisation, people with serious mental illness die up to 20 years before the rest of the general population. Clinicians agree that the biggest reason for this lower life expectancy is the failure to detect and treat the physical health problems of people with mental illness. This includes conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and lung disease.

In 2017, RCN members called for more action to address the current mortality gap for those with a serious mental illness. In response, the RCN developed a Parity of Esteem Programme and is working with other organisations to address the problems those with serious mental illness face.

As well as practical advice and tips for nursing staff, the report published today highlights case studies where nurses have put steps in place to improve mental health patients’ physical health.

RCN Programme Lead for Parity of Esteem Tim Coupland, joint author of the report, said: “Nursing staff working in mental health settings understand there needs to be a greater commitment to equality. But employers and policymakers haven’t done enough to deliver this.

“They’re telling us that, despite great strides, the NHS still hasn’t got to the point where people with mental health problems get the same access to care, and the same standards of care, as people trying to get treatment for a physical health problem.

“Our report continues to highlight a serious gap in official policy advice by providing practical solutions for nurses to improve patients’ physical health.

“At present people with serious mental illness risk being treated as second-class citizens by the health service - we won’t close this gap until action replaces rhetoric.”

 

Page last updated - 21/05/2019