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.
Meanwhile, 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.
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.
Since 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, 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.
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):
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.
As a gold open access article the paper is free to download to anyone with an internet connection. As a taster, here’s the abstract:
Background: Involving mental health service users in planning and reviewing their care can help personalised care focused on recovery, with the aim of developing goals specific to the individual and designed to maximise achievements and social integration. We aimed to ascertain the views of service users, carers and staff in acute inpatient wards on factors that facilitated or acted as barriers to collaborative, recovery-focused care.
Methods: A cross-national comparative mixed-methods study involving 19 mental health wards in six service provider sites in England and Wales. This included a survey using established standardised measures of service users (n = 301) and staff (n = 290) and embedded case studies involving interviews with staff, service users and carers (n = 76). Quantitative and qualitative data were analysed within and across sites using descriptive and inferential statistics, and framework method.
Results: For service users, when recovery-oriented focus was high, the quality of care was rated highly, as was the quality of therapeutic relationships. For staff, there was a moderate correlation between recovery orientation and quality of therapeutic relationships, with considerable variability. Staff members rated the quality of therapeutic relationships higher than service users did. Staff accounts of routine collaboration contrasted with a more mixed picture in service user accounts. Definitions and understandings of recovery varied, as did views of hospital care in promoting recovery. Managing risk was a central issue for staff, and service users were aware of measures taken to keep them safe, although their involvement in discussions was less apparent.
Conclusions: There is positive practice within acute inpatient wards, with evidence of commitment to safe, respectful, compassionate care. Recovery ideas were evident but there remained ambivalence on their relevance to inpatient care. Service users were aware of efforts taken to keep them safe, but despite measures described by staff, they did not feel routinely involved in care planning or risk management decisions. Research on increasing therapeutic contact time, shared decision making in risk assessment and using recovery focused tools could further promote personalised and recovery-focused care planning.
A 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:
locate, appraise and synthesise relevant research;
locate and synthesise policy, guidance, case reports and other grey and non-research literature;
produce outputs with clear implications for service commissioning, organisation and provision;
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.
Right 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.
Hot on the heels of the publication of this paper from COCAPP, I’ve had two opportunities in recent weeks to present the content to (very select) groups, first at City, University of London and then at the South Wales Mental Health Nursing Journal Club and Seminar Group. Because I can, I thought to share the slides: so here they are, for anyone interested: