Community psychiatric nurse caseloads and the ‘worried well’: misspent time or vital work?


  • Len Bowers RMN RGN BSc(Hons) MA(Econ) PhD

    1. Reader in Mental Health Nursing, City University, St Bartholomew School of Nursing and Midwifery, Philpot St, London E1 2EA, England
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Community psychiatric nurses (CPNs) in the United Kingdom are being repeatedly urged to focus their attention upon those with serious and enduring psychotic illnesses, and to withdraw from working with the ‘worried well’ in the primary health care setting. In view of this pressure, it is important to discover the nature of community psychiatric nurses' non-psychotic caseloads. The aim of this study was to describe these cases, what precipitated their referral, what problems they suffered from, what effects these problems had upon their lives and what kinds of therapeutic interventions they were receiving. A random sample was drawn of non-psychotic CPN patients. The community psychiatric nurses then received a structured interview about the history, care and treatment of these patients. These patients did not, in general, suffer from minor, self-limiting conditions. They typically had had 5 years of contact with psychiatric services, and their psychiatric symptoms blighted their occupational, social and personal lives. Their condition caused significant carer burden, and there was frequently a risk of suicide. The CPNs case-managed a complex combination of interventions for these patients, of which psychotherapeutic methods were only one part. The findings show that community psychiatric nurses have a valid role to play in the care of those with non-psychotic mental disorders, and should continue to receive the opportunity, and appropriate training, to do so.