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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COCAPP-A full report published

COCAPP-A front pageThe full and final report from COCAPP-A has been published, and can be downloaded here. Led by Alan Simpson, this cross-national comparative case study investigated inpatient mental health care planning and coordination and their relationships to recovery and personalised care in six NHS organisations in England and Wales. COCAPP-A is the partner project to COCAPP, which asked similar questions about community mental health care in the same six sites.

The full COCAPP-A report is a substantial document, but also comes with summaries. Here’s the plain English one to give people a flavour:

Care planning processes in mental health wards should be personalised, conducted in collaboration with service users and focused on recovery.

We conducted a study on 19 wards in six NHS mental health hospitals in England and Wales. Over 330 service users, 320 staff and some carers completed questionnaires and took part in interviews. We also reviewed care plans and care review meetings.

We aimed to identify factors that helped staff in, or prevented staff from, providing care that was discussed with service users and that supported recovery.

When the ward seemed more recovery focused, service users rated the quality of care and the quality of therapeutic relationships highly. Staff rated the quality of relationships with service users better than did service users.

Staff spoke of the importance of involving service users in care planning, but from both interviews and care plan reviews it appeared that, often, this did not happen. Staff were trying to work with people to help their recovery, but they were sometimes unsure how to achieve this when service users were very distressed or had been detained under the law. Service users and carers often said that care was good and provided in an individualised way. Keeping people safe was important to staff, and service users were aware of measures taken to keep them safe, although these were not always discussed with them.

Our results suggest that there is widespread commitment to safe, respectful, compassionate care. The results also support the need for research to investigate how staff can increase their time with service users and carers, and how they can involve people more in discussions about their own care and safety.

There’s plenty of work ahead with journal articles to be produced, derived from the larger document. As the COCAPP and COCAPP-A teams now have community and hospital data relating to the same organisations we also have the opportunity to draw conclusions from both studies. This work has already commenced: Michael Coffey and Sally Barlow have taken a paper titled, ‘Barriers to, and facilitators of, recovery-focused care planning and coordination in UK mental health services: findings from COCAPP and COCAPPA’ to this year’s #MHNR2017, Refocus on Recovery and ENMESH conferences.

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#MHNR2017 recap

Cardiff welcomed delegates to the 23rd International Mental Health Nursing Research Conference (#MHNR2017), which took place at City Hall on September 14th and 15th 2017. This was the conference’s first visit to Wales, with the theme for the year being Imagination, Invention and Inquiry. Papers were welcomed emphasising the need for new ideas, new research and new ways of providing services. As a curtain-raiser, with the involvement of André Tomlin (aka The Mental Elf), keynote speakers took part in a pre-conference streamed webinar which can still be viewed here.

#MHNR2017 (which, as readers of this blog will know, was until last year known as the Network for Psychiatric Nursing Research Conference), was again organised jointly by Mental Health Nurse Academics UK (MHNAUK) and the Royal College of Nursing. It remains the UK’s leading annual event of its kind. I was pleased to serve as chair of the conference steering committee for this year, and got to open proceedings with a short welcome address.

Across the two days keynote speakers (all of whom were live streamed: see below) were Professor Joy Duxbury, who drew on her programme of research into reducing restrictive practices; Dr Phil Cooper, Danny Sculthorpe and Jimmy Gittins who gave inspirational talks drawing on the personal experience of mental distress and their work with State of Mind; Dr Jay Watts, who challenged delegates to embrace the idea of trauma-informed care; Dr Michael Coffey, who spoke as one of two inaugural MHNAUK Lecturers about the problem of assessing risk; Professor Paul French, also an inaugural MHNAUK Lecturer, who talked about his programme of research into psychosis; and Professor Gary O’Reilly who introduced his research into the use of computer games as a vehicle for the provision of psychological therapies for young people with mental health difficulties.

Here are the saved live streams from our excellent keynotes for those who are interested. Eventually we’re hoping to upload higher quality recordings to our conference YouTube account:

#MHNR2017 also provided an opportunity for Cardiff academics to showcase their research and engagement activities. Dr Nicola Evans talked of her work with colleagues in Canada and Australia on benchmarking competencies for mental health nurses working in child and adolescent mental health services, and Alicia Stringfellow and Gemma Stacey-Emile talked of their work promoting mental health and wellbeing in Grangetown through the Community Gateway project. John Hyde presented his research into the boundaries between community mental health teams and crisis resolution and home treatment services. On behalf of the team led by Professor Jon Bisson I introduced the ongoing 3MDR for treatment resistant post-traumatic stress disorder study. I also presented a new (and in-progress) analysis from COCAPP of the practice and processes of care coordination, and introduced a paper uniting theory, design and research methods for the study of complex mental health systems. 

Elsewhere I heard some outstanding presentations from colleagues elsewhere in the UK and around the world, and was particularly heartened to listen to and to meet student nurses. Thanks for coming, everyone. 

Planning for #MHNR2018 will begin shortly, with updates available via the conference twitter account which can be found here.


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