Yesterday I joined other members of Mental Health Nurse Academics UK at the University of York, for what turned out to be a particularly lively spring term meeting.
We were treated to two high-quality local presentations in the morning: from Simon Gilbody on smoking cessation interventions for people using mental health services, and from Jerome Wright on developing community mental health in Malawi.
In the early afternoon David Sallah from Health Education England (HEE) took the floor to talk about the Shape of Caring review, the final report from which is due to be published later this week. From David’s presentation it is evident that HEE will be making a case for a significant shake-up to the way nurses are prepared.
MHNAUK members in York were concerned with what they heard. Uppermost for many was a concern that HEE’s wish for future student nurses to commence their courses with two years of Project 2000-style generalist preparation will erode the time available for mental health-specific learning. People were also struck by the apparent lack of a clear evidence base for change. It is, after all, only a handful of years since the Nursing and Midwifery Council introduced its current standards for education, and curricula up and down the country were rewritten in response. In the absence of robust evaluations of what we already have, are we really sure we know what needs fixing in nurse preparation?
The Shape of Caring review is sponsored by a body with authority in England only, but I am under no illusions that any changes flowing from it will be felt equally here in Wales. David Sallah mentioned cross-UK talks as having already opened. As people observed yesterday, however, any changes to nursing education recommended at this point may be lost following a general election where greater priorities occupy the time of a newly formed government.
Meanwhile, and with a firm eye on the forthcoming election, the Council of Deans of Health has been busy making a case for health higher education and research in its new publication Beyond Crisis. This has three main messages, addressing: workforce planning; building on the talents of the current workforce; and investing in research. Amongst other things the Council is asking for proper forward planning to avoid cycles of boom and bust, opening up opportunities for continuous professional development and protecting and advancing research. It is also suggesting that new ways of financially supporting health professional education should be looked at, including models where contributions are made by students and employers.