Category: Services

Accessible summary

In what will, I imagine, be a final post about the MENLOC evidence synthesis here is our accessible summary. This has been produced with a wide readership in mind, and for completeness includes links to the full Health and Social Care Delivery Research monograph reporting the project in full, and to our two derived papers. The first, in Palliative Medicine, reports on our research, policy and guidance synthesis and the second, in BMJ Open, reports on findings from our synthesis of case studies.

For a copy, click below:

MENLOC monograph

With funding from the National Institute for Health Research comes the opportunity (and indeed, the requirement) to produce a detailed monograph reporting on all aspects of the project which has been supported. The Health and Social Care Delivery Research monograph arising from the MENLOC evidence synthesis, about which I have added various posts on this site, has now appeared. As with all NIHR project reports, this is free to download.

Here is the plain English summary:

In this study 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 of life. Severe mental illness refers to a range of issues for which care is usually provided by specialist mental health services.

An advisory group, which included people who had 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 much confidence decision-makers should have in these statements.

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. The evidence suggests that partnerships should be built between mental health and end-of-life care staff, and that 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 to be improved 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 to evaluate new ways of providing and organising care.

Second MENLOC paper

Here is our second published paper from the MENLOC project, which has synthesised what is known about end of life care for people with severe mental health problems. This article, led by Michael Coffey, reports on our theming of the evidence derived from previously-published case studies. The paper is in BMJ Open, is open access, and has this as its abstract:

Objectives: People with severe mental illness (SMI) have significant comorbidities and reduced life expectancy. The objective of the review reported in this paper was to synthesise material from case studies relating to the organisation, provision and receipt of care for people with SMI who have an end-of-life (EoL) diagnosis.
Design: Systematic review and thematic synthesis.
Data sources: MEDLINE, PsycINFO, EMBASE, HMIC, AMED, CINAHL, CENTRAL, ASSIA, DARE and Web of Science from inception to December 2019. Supplementary searching for additional material including grey literature along with 62 organisational websites.
Results: Of the 11 904 citations retrieved, 42 papers reporting 51 case studies were identified and are reported here. Twenty-five of the forty-two case study papers met seven, or more quality criteria, with eight meeting half or less. Attributes of case study subjects included that just over half were men, had a mean age of 55 years, psychotic illnesses dominated and the EoL condition was in most cases a cancer. Analysis generated themes as follows: diagnostic delay and overshadowing, decision capacity and dilemmas, medical futility, individuals and their networks, care provision.
Conclusions: In the absence of high-quality intervention studies, this evidence synthesis indicates that cross-disciplinary care is supported within the context of established therapeutic relationships. Attention to potential delay and diagnostic overshadowing is required in care provision. The values and preferences of individuals with severe mental illness experiencing an end-of-life condition should be recognised.

Crisis responses

In recent months I’ve been part of a team, led by Nicola Evans, bringing together the evidence in the area of responses for children and young people in mental health crisis. Our working definition of a ‘crisis response’ has been the provision of a service in response to extreme psychosocial distress, which for children and young people may be provided in any location such as an emergency department, primary care, a specialist or non-specialist community service, a school, a college, a university, a youth group, or via a crisis support line. Our objectives have been:

  • To critically appraise, synthesise and present the best available evidence on the organisation of crisis services for children and young people aged 5 to 25 years, across education, health, social care and the third sector.
  • To determine the effectiveness of current models of mental health crisis support for children and young people.
  • To explore the experiences and perceptions of young people, families and staff with regards to mental health crisis support for children and young people aged 5 to 25 years.
  • To determine the goals of crisis intervention

As a project team we’ve been informed by a stakeholder advisory group, and have cast a wide net by searching not only for research but also other relevant evidence including guidance, case studies and more. Methodologically, therefore, this review bears comparison with others I’ve previously written about on this site including the RiSC study and MENLOC. More on this crisis care evidence synthesis to follow in due course.

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.