Joining mental health nursing

Mental health nursing is important and fulfilling work, and offers a fine and rewarding career. More people also need to be doing it. By way of background, last month Mental Health Nurse Academics UK (MHNAUK) submitted a response to Health Education England (HEE)’s Facing the Facts, Shaping the Future draft health and care workforce strategy for England to 2027. Contained in this HEE draft are figures on trends in the numbers of nurses, by field of practice, employed in NHS England over the period 2012 to 2017.

Growth/reduction in NHS employed nurses and midwives by field, 2012 to 2017 (extracted from Facing the Facts, Shaping the Future)

Obvious at a glance from this figure is the decline in both mental health and learning disability nursing numbers over time. Elsewhere HEE also describes a 14% mental health nursing vacancy rate.

Now, the Nursing Times reports a reduction for the second year in a row (£) in the numbers of applications for nursing degrees received via the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Declining applications need to be viewed in the context of the removal of bursaries for students of nursing enrolling at English universities. In MHNAUK we have said, more than once, that we fear the loss of bursary support poses a particular threat to our field of practice. The same applies to learning disability nursing, where at least one degree programme closed last year (£).

Evidence like this is why initiatives like #MHnursingFuture (see also here, for the Twitter account) are important. Initiated by Dave Munday from Unite the Union, this is all about celebrating the work of mental health nurses and encouraging others to join us. As an occupational group we haven’t always been good at describing what we do, and why what we do is valuable (£). This needs to change, now more than ever.

With all this in mind this may be a good time to remind people of this useful page, hosted on the MHNAUK website, on joining the profession. As this says:

Forget all the stereotypes about straitjackets and Victorian asylums; modern mental health nursing focuses on helping and supporting people from all walks of life with a variety of ‘common’ mental health disorders (such as anxiety and depression) as well as more serious disorders such as drug and alcohol problems, suicidal feelings, psychosis, bipolar disorder and dementia. They also play a key role in promoting mental health and well-being among the public and preventing mental health problems occurring in the first place.

This helpful MHNAUK resource also includes suggestions for further reading, included in which are texts describing in detail many of the skills that mental health nurses routinely use and the context in which they go about their work. And, for any reader contemplating applying to any of the 60+ mental health nursing degree courses offered throughout the UK, do give some thought to our undergraduate nursing programmes here in the School of Healthcare Sciences at Cardiff University.

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Strange days

2018-03-14 15.44.10Suffice to say that this has been the most peculiar of months. Large parts of the last four or five weeks have been spent on picket lines, at rallies, in community teach-outs and working to contract. I’ve joined with friends, old and new, in support of decent pensions for university staff. The Wikipedia page dedicated to the current dispute reports that the strikes are the most sustained to have ever taken place in UK higher education. A first offer to University and College Union members to end the action having been rejected, with the prospect of a further 14 more days of strikes across campuses looming a new offer has been tabled today (March 23rd). Next week will be critical, I suspect.

Elsewhere, I managed to disappear to the always-spectacular Cornwall for a week. That’s where the photograph above of the boat was taken. In the world of mental health nursing research, preparations for #MHNR2018 are now in full swing, with more information (including on abstract submission) to be found here. Our theme for this year’s conference is Place, Purpose and Politics: Re-imagining Mental Health Care, and we’ll be at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester on September 13th and 14th. Our confirmed keynote speakers are excellent in every way: Dr Eleanor LongdenProfessor Sir Robin Murray, Dr Jonathan Gadsby and Professor Sonia Johnson. The fifth keynote speaker is…

…potentially you, reader. For the second year running we’re inviting nominations to deliver the Annual Mental Health Nurse Academics UK Lecture. This is a super opportunity for a mental health nurse who has made a significant contribution to the promotion and enhancement of mental health nursing education, research, policy and/or practice to speak at a major international event. Don’t be shy!

In other news, this month I was pleased to see the publication of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Dissemination Centre’s Forward Thinking themed review of research on support for people living with severe mental illness. I was a member of the project steering group for this piece of work, and the finished product is a fine resource indeed. I commend it to all those interested in the evidence base for mental health services and interventions, and am also pleased to report that the review included many studies led by, or otherwise involving, researchers with backgrounds in mental health nursing: Safewards, the City 128 extension, SPICES, RiSC, COCAPP, COCAPP-A, RESPECT.

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Why I’m on strike

2018-02-22 13.06.38

Paul Brown, me, Graeme Paul-Taylor: thanks to Kerry Hood for the photo.

I have a fantastic job, which I enjoy very much. But today I haven’t been doing it. I came into it in 1997, leaving a post as a community mental health nurse in East London to relocate to South Wales as a Lecturer in Community Nursing at what was then the University of Wales College of Medicine (UWCM). As a family we made this move even though my initial contract was fixed for a two year term. It was renewed for a further two years, and only then did I become a permanent member of staff. As part of making my transition from the NHS into higher education I transferred my health service pension into the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

I was recruited into UWCM with the chief responsibility of leading a full-time, post-registration, course preparing nurses to work in community mental health settings. I led that programme for 14 years, and over that time taught many hundreds of registered nurses and helped them on their way towards specialist, regulatory body-approved, qualifications. I have continued to contribute to, and to lead, modules involving many other groups of health care professional students, all the way from pre-registration undergraduate through to post-registration postgraduate. I have supervised and assessed umpteen student dissertations, and have supervised and examined many postgraduate researchers. I very much value my work with students, and think that I’m reasonably good at it.

Then there are the other bits of my job, which nowadays occupy as much, or more, of my time as teaching and teaching-related activities. Over the years I have become a researcher, working with excellent colleagues here and elsewhere on projects examining features of the mental health system. I help with the running of the School of Healthcare Sciences as a manager and mentor of valued colleagues, and contribute to the work of a large number of committees and groups. I do work external to Cardiff University, including with Mental Health Nurse Academics UK, at other higher education institutions as an external examiner, and for journals and funding bodies as a reviewer of manuscripts and grants.

Like all the academics I know I work long hours, and accept that my job comes with high expectations. These include securing research income and publishing excellent research papers. For me, 10 to 12 hour working days are exceptionally usual, with far fewer (but certainly not non-existent) hours spent working at weekends. It is easy to become absorbed in what I do. I respond quickly to requests for help and feedback from students and colleagues, and if I’m chipping away at a grant application or a paper for publication can soon become engrossed in the task at hand. Oddly, whilst the hours are long it doesn’t always feel that way, and I appreciate the benefits of being able to work away from the office and to have control over my diary. All in all, I do my best across the full range of activities associated with being an academic. And, as I wrote at the outset of this post I enjoy what I do, and enjoy doing it in Cardiff.

Having committed myself to university life for over two decades I conclude that it suits me well, and find it hard to imagine doing anything else until I retire. Which brings me to today. I’m far from being the most active of Union members, and from time-to-time have had my gripes about the University and College Union (UCU). But today I downed tools to join colleagues up and down the country on strike, as a protest against threats to dismantle our pensions. At the heart of the dispute is a highly contested valuation of the USS fund, and a proposal to move from a defined benefits to a defined contribution scheme. This means a potential loss in retirement of up to £10,000 per year for USS members. Here’s a useful leaflet explaining this in a little more detail:

And for those wanting more on the technical front, there’s this blogpost which I personally found very informative.

Academics are paid modestly considering the qualifications and transferable skills they have, and as I have demonstrated here put the hours in to get the job done. Many, as I did, put up with time-limited contracts in the earlier parts of their careers. We care about our students and our research. We take additional satisfaction when our work makes a contribution to society. In my field this is through the preparation of future health care professionals, and via generating an evidence base for the improvement of practice and services. In return, having a decent pension – of the kind I and others signed up for when we first came into the university sector – does not seem like much of an ask.

I also remain acutely aware of how much more precarious the position is of younger academics. If proposed pension changes go through, people in the future will enter university employment with only defined contribution USS pension arrangements as preparation for their eventual retirements. First saddled with student debt, these are talented individuals who will be employed in their early working years on fixed-term contracts, ahead of settling into careers characterised by working weeks of 60 hours or more for salaries falling far short of a king’s ransom. A working life over, they (and not their employers) will have carried all the risk to secure pensions the value of which will reflect, quite terrifyingly, the fluctuations of the stock market. It isn’t right.

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New year

Happy new year. In December 2017, I was pleased to see Values in Health and Social Care: an Introductory Workbook published, co-written with Ray Samuriwo, Stephen Pattison and Andrew Todd. It is a product of the Cardiff Values group, which began life over 15 years ago, and is the third book of its type that I’ve been involved in. The first was Values in Professional Practice: Lessons for Health, Social Care and other Professionals and the second was Emerging Values in Health Care: the Challenge for Professionals. This latest outing is very hands-on, and is packed with exercises for students and their teachers. I hope people find it stimulating and useful.

SamudIn previous posts (see here and here) I’ve written about Mohammad Marie’s PhD, which investigated resilience in Palestinian community mental health nurses. A fourth paper derived from this study has just been assigned to the January 2018 issue of the journal Health. This is a review of literature, and addresses (amongst other things) the connections between resilience and the idea of ‘Samud’. By following this link a gold open access version of the paper can be downloaded for free.

Elsewhere, I realise I have neglected to add any recent updates on this site about the work of Mental Health Nurse Academics UK. Last year was an active one. In addition to our usual three meetings we exercised our responsibilities as a Research Excellence Framework nominating body, and responded to a variety of consultations and calls for evidence: a nursing workforce inquiry initiated by the House of Commons Health Select Committee; the Nursing and Midwifery Council‘s proposed standards for education; both NHS Improvement and Centre for Mental Health reports on the mental health workforce; and more besides. Our meetings for this year are all scheduled, and it will be good to catch up in Birmingham in February, Greenwich in June and Essex in October.

 

 

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#MHNR2017 keynotes and planning for #MHNR2018

The International Mental Health Nursing Research Conference 2017 took place in Cardiff on September 14th-15th, and the videos of the keynote speakers have now been uploaded to the conference YouTube channel. For a shortcut, here they are:

 

 

 

 

The #MHNR2018 Committee meets at the RCN headquarters in London on December 18th, where planning will begin in earnest for next year’s event. On the agenda will be the conference theme, ideas for keynote speakers, dates and venue choice. We’ve opened a discussion on selecting a theme with this message:

…and have been pleased to receive lots of excellent suggestions to get us started. More to follow!

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HCARE welcomes Alan Simpson

Alan's seminarOn November 6th 2017 the School of Healthcare Sciences welcomed Alan Simpson from City, University of London to give a talk titled, Full-steam ahead or treading carefully? Reflections on public and patient involvement in health services research.

In warm and engaging style Alan drew on a whole programme of mental health research (including the City 128 study, Safewards, COCAPP, COCAPP-A and ENRICH) to share his experiences of involving service users at every step. Alan began with an exploration of the reasons for involving patients and the public in research, and drew on his case studies to provide examples of different methods and approaches in action. He closed with lessons learned, emphasising the importance of time, resources, flexibility, training and support, and having funds to pay people for their time and expertise.

The event was livestreamed via the twitter account of the Cardiff University mental health nursing lecturing team. For those who missed Alan and want to catch up, the saved video can still be viewed here:

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Conferences and meetings catch-up

October has been a month of external events. These began with the inaugural All Wales Mental Health Nursing and the #FutureMHN conferences, in Cardiff and Birmingham respectively. The former was organised through the All Wales Senior Nurse Advisory Group for Mental Health with support from Public Health Wales. The latter was the third such event of its kind, ably organised by a student-committee led. I’ve since been to Derry for the Autumn term meeting of Mental Health Nurse Academics UK and for Ulster University’s 14th annual mental health conference, the latter organised under the theme of Quality and Compassion: Challenges and Opportunities for Mental Health

At the MHNAUK meeting Professor Hugh McKenna, who chaired the #REF2014 Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy Panel, gave a talk on #REF2021. We livestreamed this, and have embedded a link in the MHNAUK website. Scrolling to the bottom of this page takes you there.

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