As this most difficult of years reaches its end here’s a big shout-out for registered and student mental health nurses everywhere, whose work and study has been tipped on its head during the pandemic. It’s not been easy, as this preprint from the Mental Health Policy Research Unit shows. The article reports pre-peer review findings from a survey examining how the coronavirus crisis has exerted an impact on the care provided by mental health nurses in the UK. Here’s the ‘what this paper adds’ section:
This paper provides a unique insight into the experiences and impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on mental health nurses across a range of community and inpatient settings to understand what has changed in their work and the care they can and do provide during this crisis. This includes exploring how services have changed, the move to remote working, the impact of the protective equipment crisis on nurses, and the difficult working conditions facing those in inpatient settings where there is minimal guidance provided.
When I upload blog posts to this site I use tags to help group items together. Today, having looked at the tag cloud created by WordPress I see that ‘Mental Health Nurse Academics UK’ appears in larger size than any other single word or phrase. This tells me that this is my single most-used tag, and I’m not surprised.
I was at the first-ever meeting of the group now calling itself ‘Mental Health Nurse Academics UK’, which took place on April 29th 2003 hosted at City University and convened by Len Bowers, Julie Repper and Mary Watkins. I’ve attached to this post the agenda for the meeting, which reveals how the group began its life linked to organisational arrangements in England, uniquely. That changed once those present determined that the group should simultaneously become both UK-wide and independent from any other organisation or government department.
Very briefly, as I recall, we referred to ourselves as the ‘876 Group’, which was the sum of the ages of all those present at the inaugural meeting. On the naming front, ‘Mental Health Nurse Academics Forum’ was toyed with, and my copy of a draft set of our first-ever terms of reference speaks tenatively of the ‘Assembly of Mental Health Nurse Academics’.
As ‘Mental Health Nurse Academics UK’ our group has grown as time has passed. Membership now includes people from over 70 UK higher education institutions, plus colleagues from other organisations sharing our interests and concerns. We have a number of Standing Groups, principally leading work in the three fields of Education, Research, and Policy and Policy. We’ve always aimed to be proactive, producing (right from the start) independent papers and statements, as well as taking opportunites to respond to consultations. Our first position paper was on post-registration education, and on our website we now have a long list of pieces we’ve produced over the years including evidence submitted to the House of Commons, editorials and journal articles, responses to the NMC, and a whole lot more. An often-referred to piece, written by Steven Pryjmachuk, introduces mental health nursing to people considering making applications for pre-registration degree entry.
I’ll continue getting to meetings once my term as Chair ends, and know that our next meeting (and possibly more) will again be convened online. Our last two meetings, in June and October 2020, were our most-attended: something no doubt related to the fact that they happened using videoconferencing software. For the future, Fiona and Jim are going to be a super combination leading the group onwards, and I’m wishing both all my very best and my support as they press ahead with their work.
This year’s International Mental Health Nursing Research Conference (#MHNR2020) happened over two weeks in September, as planned through #mhTV and with a whole lot of help from Dave Munday, Nicky Lambert and Vanessa Gilmartin. Along with everyone else who values this annual event I’m indebted to all three for the work they’ve put in over the months to make #mhTV happen, and to do so as an entirely free offering open to anyone with use of an internet connection.
I enjoyed my chance to join Mick McKeown as a co-host of #MHNR2020’s evening panel discussions, and the format of inviting guests to pre-record and upload their presentations ahead of bringing them together in themed groups worked well. Every pre-recorded presentation and panel conflab can be viewed on the conference webpage, and will remain there as a resource for the future. As it happens, I pitched up as a panel member on the evening of September 25th, speaking about findings from the MENLOC evidence synthesis in the area of end of life care for people severe mental illness. As a shortcut, here’s a link to my pre-recorded presentation summarising our main findings:
For many years I led a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)-approved post-qualification degree course for mental health nurses working in, or wanting to work in, the community. I wrote about the curriculum we developed in Cardiff, and was involved in two surveys of course leaders of programmes of this type which went on to be published here and here. Our Cardiff course, like others of its type, was recognised by the NMC (and by the NMC’s predecessor, the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting) as preparing qualified nurses for ‘specialist practice’. Linked to a set of UK-wide standards, specialist practice was designated as practice beyond that expected at initial registration.
Most programmes of this type have long since disappeared, ours in Cardiff included, but the regulatory standards against which they were validated remain. The specialist practice qualification (SPQ) was first introduced in the 1990s, with the standards for SPQ in community nursing (including community mental health nursing) not being updated since the early 2000s. In 2019 the NMC commissioned an independent review into SPQ, with the final report from this exercise making clear how poorly understood these long-outdated standards had become and how much a root-and-branch review was needed.
A debate can be had on the extent to which standards for practice beyond those linked to professional registration should be prescribed by a regulatory body such as the NMC. For the professions of nursing and midwifery, however, no UK-wide bodies able to definitively set standards of this type exist other than the NMC; this is partly because we have no equivalents to the royal colleges, which exist to set and maintain standards for doctors preparing for post-registration practice in the various fields of medicine.
Here’s a belated catch-up post (the second of three), produced largely with the aim of revitalising this blogsite and summarising recent happenings. This one I’ve dated to March 2020, and the period in which UK was first locking down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Towards the end of the month, Mental Health Nurse Academics UK (which I chair) published this statement on mental health nursing in the coronoavirus crisis. It addressed a number of areas: learning from people with early experience of caring for people with mental health problems and coronavirus infection; looking self and others; service responses and guidance for practitioners; the work of mental health nurses; supporting students; and research. I reflect how, in March 2020, relatively little was being said about mental health in the context of the pandemic. That’s changed, more recently, which I’ll perhaps return to in a later short post.
Over the past week I’ve been involved in industrial action as part of #UCUStrikesBack. What I’m not going to do in this post is to explain why university staff are currently on strike, largely because this has already been adequately covered elsewhere (for example, see here and here). Instead, I want to share some picket-line reflections linking what happens in universities with what happens in the health service. These are connections which are not being made frequently enough, including by some who should know better.
As an aside, data of this type are not published here in Wales. They should be. In any event, quite correctly much concern has been expressed about this startling decline in the workforce, with mental health nursing now singled out as a group needing particular help to improve both recruitment and retention.
These campaigns are important. So far, however, in its public pronouncements the RCN has failed to make the necessary connections between working conditions in universities and the present and future education of student nurses. Put simply, an adequate supply of educated, evidence-minded, person-centred nurses demands an adequate supply of secure, well-supported, fairly paid nurse educators and researchers. Nurse academics typically have career trajectories which are significantly different from those in other fields, with implications for their recruitment, retention and development. The modern norm for historians, physicists and sociologists seems to involve years of precarious, post-doctoral, employment characterised by repeated short-term contracts before landing (if ever) much sought-after full-time academic posts. In contrast, with some exceptions nurses are generally recruited into higher education by dint of their practitioner expertise, their posts linked to the servicing of courses of professional study. This was certainly how it was for me: my academic career commenced with an initial series of short-term employment contracts associated with the leading of a post-qualification course for community mental health nurses. In all universities, nurse academics can soon find themselves carrying major teaching and course management responsibilities, often for programmes and modules of study which run more than once across a single year. Demanding education and education-related workloads can squeeze out time for research, scholarship and wider engagement, in workplaces which traditionally value productivity in these areas for the purposes of career progression.
Expanding the number of nurses to fill the gaps which now exist, for which the RCN and others are rightly campaigning, requires thought and careful planning. In the run-up to the general election both are in short supply as nursing numbers become reduced to political soundbites. More student nurses must mean more nurse academics, but in any future rounds of staff recruitment potential entrants will have their eyes wide open. The erosion of university pensions relative to pensions in the NHS does nothing to encourage those contemplating the leap from health care into higher education (or, at least, into that part of the sector in which the Universities Superannuation Scheme predominates). Very reasonably, those considering future careers as nurse academics will also want to weigh up the appeal of doing work which is undoubtedly creative and rewarding with what they will hear about workloads, developmental opportunities and work/life balance.
I also learn, this week, that Leonardo da Vinci saw the making of connections as necessary in order that we might see the world as it truly is. In my working world, education, research and practice are intimately intertwined. It is disappointing that these connections are being missed by organisations which campaign on the state of nursing and the NHS, but which do not (as a minimum) also openly acknowledge the concerns that nursing and other academics have regarding the state of universities. Right now, some words of solidarity and support would not go amiss.
As it happens, MHNAUK is also about to embark on something new: next week we’re inviting nominations for people to lead our Education, Research, and Policy and Practice Standing Groups. Standing Groups are the engines of MHNAUK, and have been led thus far by Anne Felton, Mary Chambers and Neil Brimblecombe (and previously, John Baker) respectively. Big thanks to them for their work: the more that members become involved, the better.
Back in Cardiff, with esteemed co-investigators I’ve again (as I mentioned last month) been pressing on with the NIHR HS&DR-funded MENLOC evidence synthesis into end of life care for people with severe mental illnesses. This is proving to be a big piece of work, but we’re on track to submit our report in spring next year. As a team we’re also thinking carefully about future lines of enquiry, as there is lots still to do in this field.
A final thing to note in this catch-up: I’ve been thinking about what to say at next month’s Making a difference in Wales conference, which is all about taking the Framework for Mental Health Nursing forward. I think there is lots which is distinct about health policy and services in this part of the world, but also recognise the existence of gaps between policy and strategy aspirations, and workplace realities. One to mull over.
Earlier this month I joined colleagues at the main meeting of the #MHNR2019 scientific committee, held (as the conference itself will be) at the RCN in London. We had a good number of abstracts to work through, submitted by people from the UK, the US, Australia and elsewhere. The programme is being worked on now, and people will not have long to wait before learning the outcomes of the panel’s deliberations. As an aside, whilst the conference committee always welcomes proposals for workshops as well as for concurrent sessions, posters and symposia we were reminded, when we met, of the importance of workshops promising to make delegates work. This is doubly important given that a workshop typically occupies the same amount of time on the conference programme as do three concurrent talks: so they have to sound engaging, and interactive, and not read like a plan for a 90 minute lecture.
Finally, this is my 16th unbroken annual trip to the Hay Festival. When I was first here the event was a relatively small-scale affair, held in the town’s primary school. It’s a much bigger enterprise now, located on a site some half a mile out of town to which many thousands of visitors arrive each day. This year I’ve listened to talks and round table discussions on the interminable horror that is Brexit, the making of (and the intentions behind) Our Planet, the invasions first of the Vikings and then on D-Day, and more.
The theme for the conference was ‘mental health as a human right’, and the three days opened with a memorable welcome to country given by Yidinji tribal elder Henrietta Marrie followed by music and dance. Keynote speakers reflected well the conference theme in their talks, variously focusing on tackling health inequalities (including amongst Aboriginal people), suicide prevention in LGBQTI communities, rural mental health, human rights progress in Ireland (and more). Concurrent presentations were also very high-quality. Worth noting, too, is how the ACMHN used its conference to raise awareness of its campaign, being run in concert with other health care organisations, to demand that children and families seeking asylum and currently being held on the island of Nauru be brought to Australia.
In my keynote I elected to speak about mental health policy, services and nursing in Wales and made the point that the Welsh approach to health care is different from that found elsewhere in the UK, or in other parts of the world. To illustrate this I spoke about the Mental Health (Wales) Measure, the introduction of both future generations and safe staffing legislation and the imminent appearance of a Framework for Mental Health Nursing prepared through the All Wales Senior Nurse Advisory Group for Mental Health.
I realise that in the UK we have nothing quite like the ACMHN: a professional organisation comprised of subscribing members, which represents its field, acts as a credentialing body (nursing education in Australia being a generalist one) and which lobbies for better services and higher standards. The College has a Board and an elected president, the current incumbent being Eimear Muir-Cochrane, and employs a team including Kim Ryan as salaried chief executive officer. The ACMHN performs no trade union function (like the RCN, Unite the Union, and Unison in the UK), and does not register or regulate nurses (as the NMC does). Australia looks to have a number of colleges and associations organised along the same lines as the ACMHN, and I’ve found this site which lists bodies advancing practice and representing members in the fields of critical care, midwifery, children and young people’s nursing, and more.
#ACMHN2018 was an excellent experience, and I was pleased to meet roomfuls of fine and interesting people. For the record, #ACMHN2019 takes place in Sydney between 8th-10th October 2019, with the theme of ‘integrated care’.
Earlier this month I made the trip to the University of Greenwich to celebrate this year’s Skellern Lecture and Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing (JPMHN) Lifetime Achievement Award. First up was Geoff Brennan, whose lecture was titled The dark art of influencing inpatient mental health nurses. Over his career Geoff has worked as a consultant nurse, and has edited (with Cath Gamble) the textbook Working with serious mental illness. He now serves as Executive Director of Star Wards, and in his talk gave an energetic account of hospital mental health nursing now and in the past, and the skills and qualities which underpin this work. Geoff has long been a champion for inpatient nursing, but in his talk he was generous, too, in acknowledging the contribution made by others in this field. Special mention went to Len Bowers, who led the Safewards trial and who (until his retirement) oversaw the dissemination of findings and the work of promoting the uptake of these around the world.
This year’s JPMHN Lifetime Achievement Award went to Philip Burnard, Emeritus Professor in the School of Healthcare Sciences at Cardiff University, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to introduce Phil to those present. Phil’s oeuvre is a remarkable one, comprising books and papers on interpersonal and communication skills, research methods, ethics, culture, stress and burnout, and much more. The Scopus database lists 181 articles which Phil has authored, including one (A method of analysing interview transcripts in qualitative research) which has been cited well over 1,000 times. Phil gave a frank, and drily humorous, account of his early life, his career in nursing practice and academia, and his experiences of depression. I enjoyed hearing Phil speak, too, of his attachments to shoes and hats (as the photo in this post confirms).
Big congratulations indeed to Geoff and Phil, and worth noting that information on nominations for future Skellern Lecturers and JPMHN Achievement Awards can be found here. The day following this year’s event involved a return to the University of Greenwich, hosted by Deborah Watkins, John Crowley and colleagues, for the summer meeting of Mental Health Nurse Academics UK. Our surroundings were, surely, the grandest in which we’ve ever gathered as a group, being within the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site. Our meeting was particularly well-attended, with people making the journey from all four countries of the UK. Guest speaker was Dave Munday from Unite the Union, who gave an update on the #MHnursingFuture campaign. Also discussed were the new NMC standards and the assessment of mental health nursing students’ practice, MHNAUK’s recent responses to consultations and position papers, and (via a presentation from Mary Chambers) research impact. We meet again at the University of Essex in the Autumn.