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Keywords:

  • comorbidity;
  • mental health nursing;
  • physical care screening;
  • severe mental illness

Accessible summary

  • • 
    It is well known internationally that poorer health and early death in people who have a severe mental illness is a major form of inequality.
  • • 
    The research literature suggests that lower levels of physical health associated with mental illness are due to inadequate quality of care.
  • • 
    Nurses, as a professional group at the crossroads of mental and physical health, have an important role to play in lifting standards of physical care. The authors propose that nurses can improve the quality of physical care for people with a severe mental illness by having a more direct role, such as checking physical symptoms, liaising with medical practitioners and providing physical health advice (e.g. diet, exercise, sleep).
  • • 
    A programme for nurse leadership in physical care called the Health Improvement Profile is proposed as a good starting point for reversing inequalities in this area.

Abstract

There is extensive international evidence that people with severe mental illness have a lower standard of physical health than the general population. This leads to higher morbidity and mortality rates. Many of the causes for this poor physical health are modifiable. Yet the physical needs of this consumer group are neglected by healthcare systems in Australia, and elsewhere. While medical specialists are clearly integral to remedying this, nurses are well placed to play a key role in focused prevention and early intervention in the physical well-being of consumers with mental health problems. This paper outlines the specifics on how mental health nurses can be sensitized, prepared and empowered to help turn this serious health issue around. In particular, mental health nurses could be trained in and then utilize a new physical health check and response system in the UK (called the Health Improvement Profile) if adapted for use within Australia. This profile will be briefly introduced, and then its value to improving health care discussed.