Poor retention, under-resourcing and the lack of a coherent workforce plan for mental health nursing were all highlighted in nurses’ union NZNO’s submission to the Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry.

The submission drew on consultation with the New Zealand Nurse Organisation’s Mental Health Nurses Section (MHNS), the College of Child and Youth Nurses and the Enrolled Nurse Section – including a survey of its 545 MHNS members.

“Resourcing is the primary and urgent concern of mental health and child and youth health nurses who are NZNO members,” says the submission.

“There are not enough staff for care recipients and caregivers, be they professionals or family members, to be safe from physical harm, burn out or errors,” it says. “One community mental health nurse who responded to the NZNO consultation request does not even have access to a car to use to visit her clients.”

The submission made an urgent call for a “comprehensive mental health nursing workforce plan to addresses the supply and demand factors” to ensure the right supply and mix of mental health nurses to respond to growing demands – including in primary health.

It pointed out that mental health nursing made up 45% of the mental health and addiction sector health workforce – with the latest Te Pou report indicating there were 3,776 mental health nurses employed in 3,454 FTEs – but the 2017 Mental Health and Addiction Workforce Plan made no reference to a need for a specific mental health nursing workplan.

One MHNS survey respondent said the biggest area for concern for her was staff retention – particularly supporting and retaining new graduate nurses entering the workforce.

“…it is really heart breaking watching new grads that I have mentored supported and supervised losing their passion and becoming tired, fearful and burnt out in a very short time,” said the respondent. “In order to stop this happening and retaining our young grads they need to have ongoing support, supervision, a safe working environment, responses to violence that are genuine and an overall feeling that what they do valued and important.”

The submission says DHB employers “must have plans to proactively recruit into vacant mental health nursing vacancies, to ensure safe staffing levels and working conditions”.

Members also expressed health and safety concerns related to violence and nurses working alone in remote communities without cell phone coverage.

“They note a concerning dearth of options for care recipients and whanau who are affected by addictions including methamphetamine,” says the submission. “Reducing and eliminating the use of seclusion becomes unachievable until the resources to manage withdrawal from ‘P’ and other psychoactive substances are established.”

Child and youth nurses shared similar concerns to the MHNS and added that services for youth needed to be not only culturally appropriate but also developmentally appropriate.

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