Category: Policy

More observations from a small country

This new paper has been a long time in the making. Work on it began with preparations for an address given at the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses conference in 2018. Refinements and updates happened towards the end of 2019, in the context of preparing for a talk delivered at a Royal College of Nursing-sponsored event in Cardiff in 2019, with a further version presented at an online conference organised by Julia Terry, from Swansea University, during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown. Along the way the written article has benefited from a critical reading from both Michael Coffey and  Nicola Evans, and from no fewer than four anonymous peer reviewers. My thanks to all of them.

Observations from a small country: mental health policy, services and nursing in Wales can be downloaded in green open access form from the Cardiff University institutional repository, and has this as its abstract:

Wales is a small country, with an aging population, high levels of population health need and an economy with a significant reliance on public services. Its health system attracts little attention, with analyses tending to underplay the differences between the four countries of the United Kingdom (UK). This paper helps redress this via a case study of Welsh mental health policy, services and nursing practice. Distinctively, successive devolved governments in Wales have emphasised public planning and provision. Wales also has primary legislation addressing sustainability and future generations, safe nurse staffing, and rights of access to mental health services. However, in a context in which gaps always exist between national policy, local services and face-to-face care, evidence points to the existence of tension between Welsh policy aspirations and realities. Mental health nurses in Wales have produced a framework for action, which describes practice exemplars and looks forward to a secure future for the profession. With policy, however enlightened, lacking the singular potency to bring about intended change, nurses as the largest of the professional groups involved in mental health care have opportunities to make a difference in Wales through leadership, influence and collective action.

The argument I’ve developed here is that policy for health care in Wales, and for mental health care specifically, has distinctive features. As a peer reviewer I continue to have to correct manuscripts which conflate ‘England’ with the ‘UK’, and I’ve tried in this article to point out some of the things which make Wales different. I have also highlighted what seem, to me, to be gaps between well-intentioned policy aspirations and actual experiences as revealed through research. Overall, though, I intend the paper to convey a message of optimism, noting (amongst other things) the high value placed on the relational work of mental health nurses and the positive differences nurses make. Enjoy the read!

The 876 Group

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.

This week, over at the Mental Health Nurse Academics UK website, we’ve announced the election of Jim Turner as the group’s Vice Chair and Chair-elect. Jim will first be working in support of Fiona Nolan, who steps into the Chair position at the beginning of the new year following the conclusion of my term of office next month.

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.

Mental health policy, services and nursing in Wales

The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to the existence of devolved government in the UK. Here in Wales we’re used to hearing from Mark Drakeford, but my guess is that it’s only in recent months that most people in other parts of the UK will have become actively aware of his role as First Minister, and indeed the authority held by the Welsh Government to create policy and to legislate. For a helpful discussion on all things Wales and COVID-related, here’s a link to an episode of The Bunker podcast on the same.

In a Wales-themed episode of #mhTV held in October 2020 I joined a discussion panel alongside Hazel Powell (Nursing Officer for Mental Health and Learning Disability in the Chief Nursing Officer’s team) and Michelle Forkings (Associate Director of Nursing/Divisional Nurse for Mental Health and Learning Disability in Aneurin Bevan University Health Board) to talk about policy, power and mental health health nursing. Here’s a link:

International Mental Health Nursing Research Conference 2020

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:

Catch-up post 2: Mental health matters in the pandemic

MHNAUK covidHere’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.

Catch-up post 1: End of life care for people with severe mental illness

menloc logo 5In the first of a short series of catch-up blogposts on this site, this non-pandemic related one refers back to February 2020 and the submission of the draft final report for the MENLOC study.

MENLOC has been an evidence synthesis into end of life care for people with severe mental illness,  funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research Programme. I’ve introduced the project on this site before, and the bulk of our work is now done. At some future point we’ll receive peer review comments back on the (very large) document we’ve submitted, and once our responses have been written, returned and accepted the report will progress towards publication in the National Institute for Health Research Journals Library. Next up will be shorter publications in journals, about which I can post more as we progress.

Learning how to see: industrial action in universities and the nursing workforce

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Photo by @sarawhittam

I take the view that ‘everything is connected to everything else’, to use a phrase I recently learn is attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. More on him later.

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 a mental health nurse academic I am acutely aware of the perilous position occupied by my profession in the NHS, with reports from earlier in 2019 pointing to a loss of 6,000 mental health nurses in NHS England since 2009. Below is a graph, created using NHS Digital data, which starkly reveals the current situation:

MHN numbers 2019As 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.

Reflecting my position as a health professional academic I hold joint membership of the University and College Union (UCU) and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). The RCN, along with other health service unions like Unite and Unison, is trying to reverse the crisis facing the nursing workforce. It is campaigning on safe staffing, has published a manifesto to assist nurses wanting to interrogate prospective parliamentary candidates ahead of the December 2019 general election, and through its Fund our Future campaign is lobbying government to reverse the removal of tuition fee and living cost support for students of nursing in England.

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.


October review

Over on the website of Mental Health Nurse Academics UK (MHNAUK) I’ve written this brief review of MHNAUK’s last meeting, which took place at Unite the Union’s offices in Glasgow on October 11th 2019. This was a good meeting, with two guest speakers: Lawrie Elliott, Editor of the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing and David Thomson, Chair of the Mental Health Nursing Forum Scotland. I learned lots from both, and amongst other things ended up thinking how organised mental health nurses in Scotland look to be.

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.

Introducing the MENLOC study

menloc logo 5A big part of my work this year is this recently funded evidence synthesis in the area of end of life care for people with severe mental illness. This is a cross-university study, supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Services and Delivery (HS&DR) Research Programme, which also features service user researchers and a stakeholder advisory group populated by people with experience in both the mental health and end of life care fields.

Here, from our protocol, is a summary of what we’re up to:

The aim of this project is to synthesise relevant research and other appropriate evidence relating to the organisation, provision and receipt of end of life care for people with severe mental illness (including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other psychoses, major depression and personality disorder) who have an additional diagnosis of advanced, incurable, cancer and/or end-stage lung, heart, renal or liver failure and who are likely to die within the next 12 months.

Outputs from the project will be tailored to stakeholders, and clear implications will be drawn for the future commissioning, organisation, management and provision of clinical care. Recommendations will be made for future data-generating studies designed to inform service and practice improvements, guidance and policy.

In this context, summary objectives are to:

  1. locate, appraise and synthesise relevant research;
  2. locate and synthesise policy, guidance, case reports and other grey and non-research literature;
  3. produce outputs with clear implications for service commissioning, organisation and provision;
  4. make recommendations for future research designed to inform service improvements, guidance and policy.

This review will be conducted according to the guidance developed by the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD) and will be reported following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) statement recommendations. Reflecting Evidence for Policy and Practice Information (EPPI) Centre principles, opportunities will also be embedded into the project to maximise stakeholder engagement for the purposes of both shaping its focus and maximising its reach and impact.

Searches will be developed initially using Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) and text words across health, social care and psychology databases from their inception. In consultation with a stakeholder advisory group, supplementary methods will be developed to identify additional material including policies, reports, expert opinion pieces and case studies. All English language items relating to the provision and receipt of end of life care for people with severe mental illness and an additional diagnosis of advanced, incurable, cancer and/or end-stage lung, heart, renal or liver failure will be included. All included citations will be assessed for quality using tools developed by the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP), or alternatives as necessary if suitable CASP tools are not available. Data will be extracted into tables, and subjected to meta-analyses where possible or thematic synthesis with help from NVivo. Strength of synthesised findings will be reported where possible using GRADE and CerQual.

Information derived from the processes described above will be drawn on in an accessibly written summary. Uniquely, this synthesis will comprehensively bring together evidence on factors facilitating and hindering high-quality end of life care for people with severe mental illness, who have an additional diagnosis of advanced, incurable, cancer and/or end-stage lung, heart, renal or liver failure, and evidence relating to services, processes, interventions, views and experiences. Implications will be stated for the improvement of relevant NHS and third sector care and recommendations will be made for future research.

menlocRight now, having convened a first advisory group meeting, we’re busy searching and sifting for evidence mostly through reviewing citations identified in a series of comprehensive database searches. I’ll be posting more here as the study progresses, but for the detail a good place to go is here for the published protocol.