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An examination of the role and function of psychiatric nurses in clinical practice in Ireland


Seamus Cowman, Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, 123 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland. E-mail:


An examination of the role and function of psychiatric nurses in clinical practice in Ireland

Aim of the study.  The aim of the study was to describe the role and function of all grades of psychiatric nurse in clinical practice so as to clarify the nature and scope of psychiatric nursing services.

Background and rationale.  The psychiatric nursing role in Ireland and the United Kingdom (UK) in recent years has undergone a period of great change. There is a new emphasis on health promotion, early intervention, community development, with nursing being provided closer to where people live and work as well as making access to services easier for vulnerable groups of the population. Role ambiguity and the difficulty with defining psychiatric nursing work is a constant theme in the psychiatric nursing literature and this leaves the profession of psychiatric nursing rather vulnerable during this period of intense change.

Design and methods.  A descriptive qualitative research design with a multimethods approach to data collection was utilized involving three disparate but complimentary methods.

Results and findings.  Following data analysis, nine categories of nursing role were identified; these included both independent and interdependent roles. Clearly psychiatric nursing occupied a pivotal role in all mental health care settings. A major proportion of psychiatric nursing related to caring interactions and this appears to be a central nursing element. The assessment and maintenance of patient’s safety was also important as mental health problems may place the patient or others in a position where their physical safety is threatened.

Conclusion.  It is concluded that Irish psychiatric nurses have been innovative and initiated many new services in response to emerging needs. Our understanding of psychiatric nursing is far from complete and the immediate challenge is to determine the knowledge and skills base required for independent therapeutic roles in response to changing mental health care needs.