Published: 26/05/2005, Volume II5, No. 5957 Page 7

Mental health inpatient wards are losing staff to community teams and often have to rely on agencies, a report has found.

Acute Care 2004, by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, surveyed 330 wards in 50 mental health trusts and found that a quarter of wards had lost staff to community teams in the year before the survey. Community mental health teams, covering areas such as assertive outreach, crisis resolution and early intervention, were established by the national service framework for mental health.

Nearly half of all surveyed wards had no lead consultant psychiatrist, and 13 per cent of them were not led by a senior nurse or ward manager.

Report co-author Claire Kennett said that 'mental health staff tend not to move areas for new jobs so inpatient and community teams are all recruiting from the same pool of people'. She said the lack of a ward manager did not mean no-one would be in charge on the ward, but that in many cases the person doing the job would not have the responsibilities reflected in their job title, job description or salary.

'When staff are not getting support at that level it can be difficult to keep hold of them.' Many wards were unable to offer a range of therapeutic activities such as cognitive behaviour therapy as they did not have access to professional providers of those services.

Malcolm Rae, joint programme lead for the acute care inpatient programme at the National Institute for Mental Health in England, said working in inpatient units had to be recognised as a specialty, with better career planning to encourage more staff to apply.