Charity to be set up for nurses with substance misuse problems

The Royal College of Nursing has teamed up with a psychologist to introduce a first of its kind nursing charity that will help support nursing staff with substance misuse problems.

“We have to start doing something which will help give nurses support”

Abu Shafi

The initiative, which is being spearheaded by former RCN president Andrea Spyropoulos and Dr Abu Shafi, aims to help nurses and healthcare staff with drug problems by providing a free NHS service.

Leading the plans, Dr Shafi who is also a lead researcher, told Nursing Times that over the past year more and more nursing staff have come to him for help.

He explained that nurses did not always want to go down the occupational therapy route or talk to their managers, because they were worried about repercussions with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

Therefore, he said the idea now was to set up a charity to provide a confidential therapy service run by doctor’s and psychiatrists who would offer their time “out of hours” for free.

“At the moment there is nothing and so we have to start doing something which will help give nurses support,” Dr Shafi told Nursing Times after a fringe session into psychoactive drug misuse at the RCN congress on Wednesday.

“Our data currently shows one in 10 healthcare staff have substance misuse problems,” he said.



Andrea Spyropoulos

Dr Shafi suggested that this issue could be affecting nurses because of the stressful environments they are working in.

“Those doing nightshifts need something to get through the night, some are doing double shifts. I mean, it’s very very difficult for my nursing colleagues to not get involved in these drugs, because they need them to survive,” he said.

“So, we need to break that and support them,” said Dr Shafi. “I think if we can do something with Andrea [Spyropoulos] to provide a service within the NHS, I think we’d be one step ahead.”

The service will be run using a multidisciplinary approach and will work to support nurses in finding the deeper routed issues which may have resulted in substance misuse, rather than just replacing the drugs with another medication.

Due to the initiative being in its early stages, Dr Shafi said the funding for the service was needed to be found.

He said that, although local authorities had taken all money away from substance misuse, he did not think it would not stop the plans from going ahead.

During the RCN congress session run by Dr Shafi, one member came forward and spoke about her own personal experience of having mental health problems.

She agreed with Dr Shafi, noting that as well as a lack of substance misuse services for nurses, there was also a lack of support for staff mental health.

As part of her nurse training, the member said that she was accused of not being committed to her therapy sessions, because she could not get the time off of placements.

“We should be helping our nurses. Nursing staff are people”

Andrea Spyropulous

She then noted that at that point in time she knew how easy it was to access “these things” off of the internet and added that there was not a service or support there to help her. In which Dr Shafi replied: “Not yet.”

Former RCN president, Ms Spyropoulos, told Nursing Times that she felt staffing had something to do with nurses being affected by substance misuse.

She flagged up how shocked she was to hear of one member who told the session that she works on a mental health ward that has just one nurse working on night shifts alongside three healthcare assistants.

Ms Spyropoulos stressed the importance of getting the staffing right for staff.

When asked about the new charity plans she said: “We should be helping our nurses. Nursing staff are people. They have the same tendencies as everyone else.” 

She reiterated the lack of services in this area for nurses. “There is no bespoke service to help these nurses or healthcare staff,” she said. “Nurses deserve to be treated as people.”

It is hoped that the charity will be up and running in time to talk about the service at next year’s congress.