Category: Services

Perinatal mental health care

Continuing from this recent post celebrating the publishing of papers from doctorates I’ve had a hand in supervising, here now are links to Nicola Savory’s PhD and to a first article from this in the journal Midwifery. Nicola is a midwife, and in her thesis (funded by RCBC Wales) used quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate women’s mental health needs in the antenatal period.

Nicola’s whole-thesis summary is this:

Background: Existing research on poor perinatal mental health largely focuses on recognition and treatment of postnatal depression. Consequently, there is a need to explore antenatal mental health.
Aim: To assess poor mental health prevalence in pregnancy, its relationship to sociodemographic characteristics, self-efficacy and perceived support networks. To understand experiences and barriers preventing women with mental health problems from receiving help and explore midwives’ understanding of their role.
Method: Questionnaires were completed by women in early pregnancy. A subset identified to have mental health problems, were interviewed in late pregnancy to explore their experiences and barriers to receiving care. Midwives completed questionnaires exploring their experiences of supporting women with mental health problems and focus groups further discussed the issues raised.
Results: Amongst participants (n=302), the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) identified 8.6%, and the Generalised Anxiety Disorder Assessment (GAD-7) 8.3%, with symptoms of depression or anxiety respectively. Low self-efficacy (p=0.01) and history of previous mental health problems (p<0.01) were most strongly associated with anxiety or depression. Thematic analysis of interviews with women (n=20) identified three themes: ‘past present and future’; ‘expectations and control’; and ‘knowledge and conversations’.
Questionnaires were completed by 145 midwives. The three themes identified from the focus groups with midwives were: ‘conversations’; ‘it’s immensely complex’; and ‘there’s another gap in their care’.
Conclusion: Prevalence rates of anxiety and depression amongst women in early pregnancy were found to be similar to those reported in the literature. Low self-efficacy and previous poor mental health were significant predictors of anxiety and depression. Continuity and more time at appointments were suggested by midwives and women to improve discussions regarding mental health. Midwives were keen to support women but lacked knowledge and confidence. Consistent reference was made to the need for training regarding the practical aspects of supporting women’s mental health.

Nicola has a series of journal papers lined up from her doctorate, with the one I’ve linked to above (‘Prevalence and predictors of poor mental health among pregnant women in Wales using a cross-sectional survey’) being just the first.

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!

Out with the old

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.

The detailed findings in this paper paint a picture of members of a profession working at great pace to adjust to new ways of practising, to manage risk to self and others and to continue to provide quality care. It’s worth remembering that mental health nurses were in short supply prior to the pandemic, and possess skills, knowledge and qualities that will continue to place them in great demand in the months and years ahead.

In a second (and very specific) shout-out, here again are my thanks to the #mhTV crew comprising Dave Munday, Nicky Lambert and Vanessa Gilmartin Garrity for the very fine work they’ve been doing with #mhTV throughout the year. #mhTV has helped the mental health nursing (and wider) community to stay connected, despite the challenges of social distancing and repeated lockdowns. Dave, Nicky and Vanessa also stepped in to support the International Mental Health Nursing Research Conference 2020, and to host this year’s Skellern Lecture and Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing Lifetime Achievement Award evening

Wishing a safe and a peaceful new year to all, and here’s to a 2021 which improves considerably on the year now departing.

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:

The MENLOC study (again)

In July 2020, with colleagues I received peer review feedback on our draft MENLOC study final report, about which I’ve written before.

Final reports from studies funded by the National Institute for Health Research are sizeable affairs, typically running to 40,000 words or so and detailing the minutiae of what’s been done, and what’s been found. Once peer and editorial review has been satisfied draft reports progress to pre-publication, involving the careful copyediting of the text. Finally, once everything is typeset each report appears in a single issue of the open access journal bearing the name of the funding programme through which the research award was originally made. The screenshot I’ve included in this post is from the NIHR’s comprehensive information for authors, which takes grantholders through the process.

In the case of MENLOC the journal in which our final report will be published is Health Services and Delivery Research, and we’re expecting publication to be sometime in the spring of 2021. In the meantime, this current version of our plain English summary captures what we’ve done and what we’ve found:


We brought together evidence from research, policies, guidance and case studies in the area of end of life care for people with severe mental illness. End of life care refers to the help given to people with life-threatening conditions in their expected last 12 months. Severe mental illness refers to a range of issues for which care is usually provided by specialist mental health services.

An advisory group, including people with experience of mental health and end of life care, helped us throughout our project. We searched research databases, journals and online sources. We assessed research articles for their quality, and summarised their content. In one review we combined content from research with content from policy and guidance. In another review we combined the content of the case studies. We wrote synthesis statements summarising the research evidence, and assessed how confident decision-makers should be in these.

We included 104 documents overall. We synthesised research, policy and guidance under themes reflecting their content: the structure of mental health and end of life care services; professional practice; providing and receiving care; and living with severe mental illness. We synthesised case studies under themes relating to: delays in diagnosis; making decisions; treatment futility; supporting people; and the experience of care.

Our project has implications for care. Partnerships should be built between mental health and end of life care staff, and people should be supported to die where they choose. Care staff need education, support and supervision. A team approach is needed, including support for advocacy. Physical health care for people with severe mental illness needs improving so that life-threatening conditions can be recognised sooner.

Future research should involve people with severe mental illness at the end of life and their carers. Research is also needed evaluating new ways of providing and organising care.


MENLOC is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Services and Delivery Research programme (project number 17/100/15).

The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care


In addition to responding to these detailed reviewers’ and editors’ comments, as our MENLOC report continues on its way we’ll also be preparing papers for publication, and thinking about next steps in this programme of research. We’ve discovered that very little is known about how best to provide care at the end of life to people with severe mental health problems, making this a wide-open area for researchers and people concerned with service improvements.

Papers update

Papers July 2020Back in summer 2019 (which seems, for pandemic-related reasons, to be much longer than a year ago) I wrote a short post introducing the 3MDR study. Here, now, is the main findings paper in early view in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. Working on a clinical trial has been an interesting, learning, experience for me and this feels like an important project to have made a contribution to.

I realise, too, that I’ve neglected to draw attention on this site to two papers co-written with Ray Samuriwo, both drawing on systems perspectives, wounds and mental health: see here and here. Ray is an original thinker, and makes interesting connections across different fields: check out, too, Values in health and social care for which Ray was lead author.

Catch-up post 3: research under lockdown

One of the consequences of NHS resources being mobilised so decisively towards meeting the threat of the novel coronavirus has been the cessation of much face-to-face nursing and health services research other than that connected with COVID-19. A response in March 2020 from the NIHR included the instruction to delay the setting-up of new non-COVID projects, and to pause ongoing studies, in order that the infrastructure supporting NHS research be brought to bear almost exclusively on efforts to tackle the pandemic.

In this context, I have also observed how the online survey has become the method of choice for researchers wanting to immediately understand the effects of the COVID crisis on wellbeing and work. In April 2020, a team led by Chris Bundy from the School of Healthcare Sciences in Cardiff University launched a coping during coronavirus survey, whilst a team including Healthcare Sciences’ Danny Kelly invited nurses to take part in the first of three planned surveys reporting experiences during the crisis. The Mental Health Policy Research Unit, meanwhile, has opened its programme of COVID-related research with a survey for people working in mental health services.

WCEBCMeanwhile, one type of research relatively unaffected by the coronavirus outbreak is the evidence synthesis. In Cardiff we have the Wales Centre for Evidence Based Care and, in the early months of 2020, I joined a team led by Nicola Evans and Wales Centre colleagues to start work on a synthesis of the evidence in the areas of service organisation, effectiveness and experiences for children and young people in mental health crisis. Our plans include database searching plus online searching for grey literature, policies and guidance. More to follow as the project unfolds, which in April saw us deep in title and abstract screening.

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.