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Work lives and Wellbeing of Mental Health Nursing Workforce

Lead applicant: Prof Jane Ball


Co-applicants: Dr Gemma Simons, Prof David Baldwin, Prof Peter Griffiths, Dr Catherine Smith, Dr Emma Wadey

Project Summary: Read a long project summary

Read a short project summary

We have a growing demand for mental health care and nurses are key to meting this demand. Each year roughly 10,000 NHS staff in England leave mental health services. 22% of nursing posts in mental health are vacant. 


Across the NHS it is recognised that work pressures impact on staff wellbeing, their ability to deliver care well, and likelihood of staff staying in the NHS. Despite being a priority area, most research related to nurses’ work engagement, retention and positive staff outcomes focuses on staff in general acute hospitals. Very little attention has been paid to mental health nurses’ work lives and wellbeing. 

Where will the research take place and who will it in involve 

This study focusses on mental health nurses. It will take place in Wessex but also includes desk research to collate workforce data, and a national survey of nurses in a range of mental health settings (community, hospitals, specialist units).


The project will be led by the mental health workforce team at Southampton, in collaboration with the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Staff Support Hub, and the national lead for mental health nursing.  An advisory group and patient public group will support the research.

Aim & Design

The aim is to examine the work lives and wellbeing of mental health nurses, in order to improve wellbeing and retention of these staff.  

This study will map what is known about the mental health nursing workforce, identify modifiable workplace factors that impact on staff experience, wellbeing and outcomes, and work collaboratively to identify solutions. The companion project will identify metrics that we can use to assess the wellbeing of the mental health workforce.



  • Labour market and workforce review - analyse data on the mental health nursing workforce, to create an overview.

  • Survey nurses working in mental health (in Wessex NHS Trusts and a national sample). The questionnaire includes measures of: burnout, job satisfaction, intention to leave, workloads and practice environment. We will include open-ended questions so staff can give their views of work-life challenges, how they impact on their health, and what helps. The RCN Mental Health Forum will be main gateway for the national survey.

  • Interview and focus groups with mental health nurses in Wessex NHS Trusts to explore experiences and views of working in mental health and issues related to wellbeing. These will be both before and after the survey (to help with survey design, and afterwards, to enrich interpretation).

  • Coproduction workshop. Preliminary findings will be shared with a wide range of people with vested interest in, or responsibility for, the mental health workforce (e.g. nurses, managers, workforce leads) at a Wessex based co-production workshop, to identify actions and next steps.


How will the findings inform improvements in population health and patient care?

Services will run better and care quality will be improved if the workforce is healthy, happy and there are enough staff to provide care to the expected standards.  



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