Tag: All Wales Senior Nurse Advisory Group for Mental Health

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!

Specialist practice in the community

For many years I led a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)-approved post-qualification degree course for mental health nurses working in, or wanting to work in, the community. I wrote about the curriculum we developed in Cardiff, and was involved in two surveys of course leaders of programmes of this type which went on to be published here and here. Our Cardiff course, like others of its type, was recognised by the NMC (and by the NMC’s predecessor, the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting) as preparing qualified nurses for ‘specialist practice’. Linked to a set of UK-wide standards, specialist practice was designated as practice beyond that expected at initial registration.

Most programmes of this type have long since disappeared, ours in Cardiff included, but the regulatory standards against which they were validated remain. The specialist practice qualification (SPQ) was first introduced in the 1990s, with the standards for SPQ in community nursing (including community mental health nursing) not being updated since the early 2000s. In 2019 the NMC commissioned an independent review into SPQ, with the final report from this exercise making clear how poorly understood these long-outdated standards had become and how much a root-and-branch review was needed.

A debate can be had on the extent to which standards for practice beyond those linked to professional registration should be prescribed by a regulatory body such as the NMC. For the professions of nursing and midwifery, however, no UK-wide bodies able to definitively set standards of this type exist other than the NMC; this is partly because we have no equivalents to the royal colleges, which exist to set and maintain standards for doctors preparing for post-registration practice in the various fields of medicine.

The NMC’s ongoing programme of work developing its standards has so far included the publication of an education framework, the Future Nurse standards of proficiency for registered nurses and new standards for student supervision and assessment. Now, following receipt of its independent evaluation of SPQ the NMC is embarking on a post-registration review. In August, through my membership of the All Wales Senior Nurse Advisory Group for Mental Health I took part in an NMC webinar and discussion on specialist practice in the community, convened as part of this wider post-registration programme of work. With work already happening in parts of the UK to more closely specify ‘advanced’ practice, such as through Health Education England’s Advanced Practice Mental Health Curriculum and Capabilities Framework, the NMC is stepping into an already-crowded space. It is in this context that consistency and joined-up policy and standards will surely be needed: which is something members of Mental Health Nurse Academics UK (me included) will continue to say as this programme of activity continues to progress.

#ACMHN2018

Big thanks to the Board of Directors of the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN) for inviting me to speak at the 44th International Mental Health Nursing Conference, or #ACMHN2018, which took place in Cairns between 24th-26th October 2018. Never having been to Australia before, and indeed having never before left Europe, this was a big deal and I was grateful for the opportunity.

The theme for the conference was ‘mental health as a human right’, and the three days opened with a memorable welcome to country given by Yidinji tribal elder Henrietta Marrie followed by music and dance. Keynote speakers reflected well the conference theme in their talks, variously focusing on tackling health inequalities (including amongst Aboriginal people), suicide prevention in LGBQTI communities, rural mental health, human rights progress in Ireland (and more). Concurrent presentations were also very high-quality. Worth noting, too, is how the ACMHN used its conference to raise awareness of its campaign, being run in concert with other health care organisations, to demand that children and families seeking asylum and currently being held on the island of Nauru be brought to Australia.

In my keynote I elected to speak about mental health policy, services and nursing in Wales and made the point that the Welsh approach to health care is different from that found elsewhere in the UK, or in other parts of the world. To illustrate this I spoke about the Mental Health (Wales) Measure, the introduction of both future generations and safe staffing legislation and the imminent appearance of a Framework for Mental Health Nursing prepared through the All Wales Senior Nurse Advisory Group for Mental Health.

I realise that in the UK we have nothing quite like the ACMHN: a professional organisation comprised of subscribing members, which represents its field, acts as a credentialing body (nursing education in Australia being a generalist one) and which lobbies for better services and higher standards. The College has a Board and an elected president, the current incumbent being Eimear Muir-Cochrane, and employs a team including Kim Ryan as salaried chief executive officer. The ACMHN performs no trade union function (like the RCN, Unite the Union, and Unison in the UK), and does not register or regulate nurses (as the NMC does). Australia looks to have a number of colleges and associations organised along the same lines as the ACMHN, and I’ve found this site which lists bodies advancing practice and representing members in the fields of critical care, midwifery, children and young people’s nursing, and more.

#ACMHN2018 was an excellent experience, and I was pleased to meet roomfuls of fine and interesting people. For the record, #ACMHN2019 takes place in Sydney between 8th-10th October 2019, with the theme of ‘integrated care’.