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Mental health services under pressure.

FRONTLINE MENTAL health nurse shortages are having a flow-on effect on community mental health services, according to NZNO delegate Rebecca Win.

Win, who works as a nurse in Capital & Coast District Health Board (CCDHB) community mental health services, said having a "severely understaffed" 24-hour mental health crisis resolution service (CRS) affected other mental health services, particularly in the community.

"When we have somebody in crisis and we're only paid until 4.30 or 5pm, it can be a lot of extra work and there are no staff from the crisis team to come and take over.

Short staffing 'demoralising'

"Short staffing in acute areas is really demoralising. The work never stops and it leads to burnout and then more staff leaving, and that perpetuates the problem."

More resources were also needed so people needing help were admitted and not waiting in the community, Win said. "Waiting in the community increases pressure on the family and can pose significant risk. We see patients who have been struggling at home for a long time and just cannot cope anymore."

CCDHB mental health, addictions and intellectual disability service general manager Nigel Fairley confirmed there were 13 vacancies in its CRS, a 24-hour community mental health and addiction team serving the Wellington region. That was a quarter of its crisis team, which should have 47 staff, and included 10 mental health nursing vacancies.

CCDHB was 43 nurses short in total across its mental health services, he said in a statement. A national shortage of mental health nurses made recruiting challenging.

"A small number" of health-care associates (HCAs) were being recruited to support its crisis response team, but in "non-cLinical roles", escorting or transporting patients and supporting families. The HCAs would have a level 3 or 4 national qualification in mental health support work and receive ongoing training, he said.

NZNO president Grant Brookes said using HCAs to plug the gaps was "not at all a robust approach". Escorting and transporting mental health patients could be extremely challenging.

Nurses working in specialist mental health services needed a one-year entry-to-specialist-practice programme on top of their three-year degree, he said. To work in CRS, a nurse must have at least four years' mental health nursing experience, said Brookes, a mental health nurse for 20 years.

NZNO mental health nurses' section chair Helen Garrick agreed there was a shortage of adequately qualified and experienced mental health nurses. She believed this was due to several factors, including the end of direct-entry specialist mental health nurse training and negative media coverage.

Caption: NZNO delegate and mental health nurse Rebecca Win

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Title Annotation:news and events
Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Nov 1, 2017
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