"Somebody else’s business": The challenge of caring for patients with mental health problems on medical and surgical wards

Evidence shows that patients with mental health problems have poorer physical health outcomes, increased mortality and experience poorer care during surgery and medical admissions. Issues related to lack of training, stigmatising attitudes, fear or hopelessness may help understand these poor outcomes. In this study we aimed to explore the experiences of staff in providing care for people with mental health problems.

A qualitative service evaluation approach was employed. Participants working in an acute care hospital in inner city London were recruited across professions and job levels using a self-selection sampling method. A total of thirty participants took part in semi-structured interviews (n=17) and two focus groups (n=13), and data were thematically analysed. Relevant organisational documents and service use data was utilised to inform the evaluation. Key themes were organised across the macro, meso and micro levels to understand the levels of disconnection and silence around mental health in acute care.

Themes include systemic factors surrounding the institutional culture, ward cultures and collaborative working, and individuals’ sense-making of mental health and personal well-being. These findings signpost the growing need for greater mental health nursing input on medical and surgical wards and within these teams to provide informed knowledge, support and supervision.