Mental health nurses in South Africa’s public rural primary care settings: a human resource crisis

In this recently published research in the Rural and Remote Health Journal, De Kock and Pillay report a “a distressing shortage of Mental Health Nurses (MHNs) in South Africa’s rural public areas. Only 62 (38.7%) of the 160 facilities employ MHNs, a total of 116 MHNs. These MHNs serve an estimated population of more than 17 million people, suggesting that MHNs are employed at a rate of 0.68 per 100 000 population in South Africa’s PRPHC areas”.
They further found that “MHNs are practicing in South Africa at a national rate of 9.7 per 100 000 population. This unequal distribution calls for a redistribution of MHNs to PRPHC areas”. Further recommendations are made to address the mental healthcare workforce crisis by upscaling human resources in PRPHC areas. Revisiting policy surrounding training programs and the current evidence-based approach of task shifting is advised. Innovative approaches such as extending mental healthcare professions’ roles and scopes of practice at PHC level are necessary to ensure adequate mental health care for all South Africans.