Category: Services

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single issue of the open access journal bearing the name of the funding programme through which the research award was originally made.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.


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.

Summer research summary

Si3mdrnce returning from a week of walking August has included making final preparations for #MHNR2019, which is looking very exciting. Elsewhere, a big part of my work this month has been writing an analysis of qualitative interview data generated as part of a phase 2 trial of 3MDR for military veterans with treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder. 3MDR, or Modular motion-assisted memory desensitisation and reconsolidation, is a novel psychological intervention involving walking on a treadmill towards personally selected images of trauma whilst in the company of a skilled therapist. The study is led by Jon Bisson, and here are Neil Kitchiner and John Skipper talking about what it involves:

Working on a trial has been an interesting, and new, experience for me, and I’ve been learning lots. My qualitative write-up is destined for inclusion in a final report for the trial’s funding body, Forces in Mind Trust, but during this work as a team we’ve also been planning papers for publication.

menloc logo 5MENLOC, our ongoing evidence synthesis into end of life care for people with severe mental illnesses (about which I have written on this blog before), is in full swing. We’ve reached the stage where we’re writing up syntheses of the research papers and other outputs we’ve included, organised via a series of themes. More on this to follow in due course.

Finally, it’s been good to work in support of colleagues who have led new papers for publications. Here’s Jane Davies‘ latest paper on the experiences of partners of young people living with cancer, and a paper led by Ray Samuriwo on wound care and mental health.

Nursing numbers

Next week I’ll be in London for this year’s Eileen Skellern and JPMHN Award evening, hearing Mick McKeown give his Making the most of militant and maverick tendencies for mental health nursing Skellern lecture and Patrick Callaghan deliver his Lifetime Achievement Award address. The day following, June 14th, I’ll be at Kingston/St George’s chairing the summer meeting of Mental Health Nurse Academics UK. One of the things we’ll we talking about is NHS England’s Interim People Plan, which looks to be prioritising mental health nursing as an occupational group in need of support. Here’s a short piece I wrote yesterday for the MHNAUK website, complete with a toxic-looking figure showing the decline in applications for nursing degrees:

The NHS needs more mental health nurses. The most recently available data on the size and composition of the workforce in NHS England, for February 2019, records a total of 36,290 mental health nurses. This compares to an NHS England mental health nursing workforce in September 2009 of 40,602.

Published on June 3rd 2019, the Interim NHS People Plan is about supporting the people needed to deliver NHS England’s Long Term Plan. Chapter 3 addresses nursing, this being the profession where the greatest shortages are found and where the most urgent and immediate action must be taken. Mental Health Nurse Academics UK welcomes the identification of mental health nursing as a priority group, and notes the Interim People Plan’s statement that what must now happen is:

[…] a detailed review across all branches of pre-registration nursing, including a strong focus on the steps needed in mental health and learning disability nursing to support growth in these areas.

The Plan echos Mental Health Nurse Academics UK’s view that undergraduate degree courses offer the best way to secure a future supply of nurses. It also reproduces a figure pointing to a sharp decline in applications for nursing and midwifery courses in England since the removal of bursary support (specifically, a 31% decrease between 2016 and 2018):

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Extracted from Interim People Plan, p24

The Interim People Plan places an emphasis on what it refers to as ‘the offer’ made by the NHS to its staff. Mental health nursing needs a better offer if it is to improve the recruitment, retention and support of its current and future members. Mental Health Nurse Academics UK will be looking for concerted action in these areas.

My view is that this decline in applications was entirely foreseeable in the context of the removal of bursaries in England. As it happens, students of nursing and other health professions commencing their programmes of study in Welsh universities in Autumn 2019 can expect to be supported through the award of a bursary, in return for working for two years post-qualification in NHS Wales. That’s a good deal, in my book, and is something presented as part of the country’s wider #TrainWorkLive initiative. I’m not entirely sure how far this ‘Welsh offer’ (to borrow the language of the People Plan) is known throughout other parts of the UK: so I’m happy to give it a nudge here.