Number of nurses experiencing suicidal thoughts up 98%, RCN finds
The findings have been described as a “frightening wake-up call”, with mental health support for nursing staff declining amid increased pressures.
The number of nurses experiencing suicidal thoughts has risen by 98 per cent compared to the same period last year, according to new data released by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
Calls to the RCN’s Advice Line in October found that an equivalent of one person each working day was reporting suffering from suicidal ideation in their initial call, compared to just one per week in October 2021. In response to its findings, the college has commissioned research to understand in greater detail the reasons behind poor wellbeing among members, and to discern whether or not marginalised groups are being impacted disproportionately.
The RCN has previously highlighted the “failure of [the] UK government’s promise to recruit 50,000 nurses”, and points to a 12 per cent fall in the number of people expected to take up nursing courses in England this year as evidence that the nursing workforce is facing “dangerous staff shortages”, with subsequent impacts on staff morale and patient care.
The RCN is renewing its call on the government to invest in dedicated mental health support for nurses who are suffering from “persistent understaffing, intolerable pressures at work and financial insecurity at home”. Despite these pressures, one third of the 41 mental health hubs established by NHS England have closed, including seven specialist hubs established during the Covid-19 pandemic. A further seven reported in May 2023 that they had less than a year’s funding to stay open.
The RCN’s Interim Head of Nursing Practice, Stephen Jones, has described the findings as a “frightening wake-up call”, adding: “Nursing staff contribute so much to our society, but working in an inherently stressful job can come at an enormous personal cost. Yet we see support services cut when we should be seeing greater investment in looking after those who care for us.
“The increasing burden on nursing staff, as they try to help clear the excessive backlog in care, has created intolerable working conditions on every shift. Coupled with nursing pay not keeping up with the cost-of-living, we’re alarmed by this growing mental health crisis among nursing staff.
“The UK government must understand that cuts to mental health support for nursing staff can’t continue – when you invest in the health of nursing staff you also invest in the health of patients.”
Saffron Cordery, Deputy Chief Executive at NHS Providers, said that: “The RCN is right to highlight the impact of escalating pressure on nurses’ mental health due to increased demand and staff shortages. We need urgent action to tackle this situation, which has led to an alarming rise in suicidal thoughts among nursing staff.
“Nurses play a vital role in our society but cannot be expected to meet such high demand without proper national support for, and investment in, frontline services.”