Over a third of learning disability nurse posts have been cut since 2010 and fewer are in training than ever before.
Experts at the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) Children and Young People’s Nursing Conference have warned that government cuts to learning disability nurse posts mean an increasing number of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are unable to access the support they need.
Parents too are often given little help after their child’s diagnosis and are forced to cope without the support they need, from counselling and family support groups to specialist education.
According to the RCN experts have also warned that hospital staff often have difficulty communicating with children with autism and need more training in this area.
National figures show that around 1 in every 100 children in the UK has ASD, a condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.
Fiona Smith, RCN Professional Lead for Children and Young People, said: “Children with autism are being severely let down by the sheer lack of support that is available to them.
“Nursing staff across health services have a huge role to play in helping children with autism and their families. However, we need the staff and the training in order to provide the care that is so vitally needed.”
Cuts to mental health services leave staff facing violence and aggression
Union says that reduced funding to mental health services across the UK is leaving staff vulnerable to violence and aggression from patients.
The report, Struggling to Cope, paints a bleak picture of the country’s mental health services – for both staff and users. It is based on a survey of over 1,000 mental health employees across the UK, who work in a range of roles – with children and adults in hospitals, in secure units and out in the community.
42% of staff said they had been on the receiving end of violent attacks in the last year while 36% said they had witnessed violent incidents involving patients attacking their colleagues. Comments from some staff suggest that “violent or aggressive incidents happen on a daily basis”, and that they “go with the job”.
One worker described being “repeatedly punched to the floor”, while others spoke of “attempted strangulation”, or being head-butted, spat on, kicked and bitten.
Sara Gorton, Head of Health for Unison, said:
“These findings highlight a range of deep-rooted issues in mental health services that need to be addressed urgently.
“The lack of prevention and absence of early intervention services mean that by the time many people access help, they are already very ill and at crisis point.
“Severe staff shortages mean there are fewer mental health employees to deal with a rising number of users with complex needs. As a result, many staff are having to work alone, making violent attacks more likely. It’s no wonder so many are planning on leaving for less stressful, safer work elsewhere.”
The news comes only a week after the RCN called for an “urgent review” of hospital staffing levels after they warned patient safety and dignity is being put at risk by over-stretched services.
NHS to recruit 21,000 Mental Health workers in England
The health secretary has said thousands more mental health workers are to be recruited by the NHS in England.
The £1.3 billion pound drive is promised to increase the number of nurses, therapists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals to treat an extra one million people and provide services seven days a week.
Jeremy Hunt has promised to end the “historic imbalance” between mental and physical health services. He went on to say that the measures were “ambitious” and amounted to “one of the biggest expansions of mental health services in Europe”.
The aim is to recruit enough nurses and support staff to treat an extra one million patients by 2020-21 but with over 30,000 current NHS vacancies unions are critical as to where these staff will come from.
Professor Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who helped develop the plan, said; “You would expect to see a consultant if you had cancer and the same applies for mental health. The biggest challenge to creating robust mental health services is the workforce. I am very supportive of this strategy which starts to tackle that problem.”
However, the Royal College of Nursing said the plans did not add up, and more “hard cash” would be needed if the new staff were to be trained in time.
“If these nurses were going to be ready in time, they would be starting training next month,” said RCN Chief Executive Janet Davies.
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