Tag: community mental health nurses

May review

2019-05-20 18.41.32.jpgEarlier this month I joined colleagues at the main meeting of the #MHNR2019 scientific committee, held (as the conference itself will be) at the RCN in London. We had a good number of abstracts to work through, submitted by people from the UK, the US, Australia and elsewhere. The programme is being worked on now, and people will not have long to wait before learning the outcomes of the panel’s deliberations. As an aside, whilst the conference committee always welcomes proposals for workshops as well as for concurrent sessions, posters and symposia we were reminded, when we met, of the importance of workshops promising to make delegates work. This is doubly important given that a workshop typically occupies the same amount of time on the conference programme as do three concurrent talks: so they have to sound engaging, and interactive, and not read like a plan for a 90 minute lecture.

For me this month also included a trip to St Angela’s College in Sligo for a stint of external examining for the College’s Postgraduate Diploma in Community Mental Health Nursing. It’s a good course, attracting applicants from all around Ireland, in which students learn about recovery-focused practice, therapeutic relationships, formal therapies, the context for care and care coordination, and more besides. It’s complex work being a registered nurse, and that’s why in all parts of the world the profession is (or is becoming) a graduate one for new registrants, with specialist courses like this one in Sligo being offered at post-registration level. I mention this as, tediously, nurses (and their friends) are once again having to defend the value of an education which involves time in practice but also, crucially, study for a degree.

Finally, this is my 16th unbroken annual trip to the Hay Festival. When I was first here the event was a relatively small-scale affair, held in the town’s primary school. It’s a much bigger enterprise now, located on a site some half a mile out of town to which many thousands of visitors arrive each day. This year I’ve listened to talks and round table discussions on the interminable horror that is Brexit, the making of (and the intentions behind) Our Planet, the invasions first of the Vikings and then on D-Day, and more.

Resilience of community mental health nurses in Palestine

Earlier this week a new article lead authored by Mohammad Marie, and co-authored by Aled Jones and me, was published in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing. The title of the article is Resilience of nurses who work in community mental
health workplaces in Palestine
, and is the second paper arising from Mohammad’s completed PhD. As the article appears in gold open access form copies can be directly downloaded from the journal’s website for free: or indeed, by clicking either the hyperlinked title or image above.

The larger part of Mohammad’s qualitative dataset is interviews conducted with CMHNs working in the West Bank. Fifteen practitioners took part, from a total population of 17. For the record, that’s 17 community mental health nurses for a population of some three million people. That’s an astonishingly low number by UK standards; for more on mental health needs and services in Palestine, the place to go is Mohammad’s first paper (Mental health needs and services in the West Bank, Palestine) about which I previously blogged here.

Here is the abstract from this latest paper:

People in Palestine live and work in a significantly challenging environment. As a result of these challenges they have developed resilient responses which are embedded in their cultural context. ‘Sumud’, in particular, is a socio-political concept which refers to ways of surviving in the context of occupation, chronic adversity, lack of resources and limited infrastructure. Nurses’ work in Palestine is an under-researched subject and very little is known about how nurses adjust to such challenging environments. To address this gap in the literature this study aimed to explore the resilience of community mental health nurses (CMHNs) who work in Palestine. An interpretive qualitative design was chosen. Fifteen face-to-face interviews were completed with participants. Thirty-two hours of observations of the day-to-day working environment and workplace routines were conducted in two communities’ mental health centres. Written documents relating to practical job-related policies were also collected from various workplaces. Thematic analysis was used across all data sources resulting in four main themes, which describe the sources of resilience among CMHNs. These sources are ‘Sumud and Islamic cultures’, ‘Supportive relationships’, ‘Making use of the available resources’, and ‘Personal capacity’. The study concludes with a better understanding of resilience in nursing, which draws on wider cultural contexts and social ecological responses. The outcomes from this study will be used to develop the resilience of CMHNs in Palestine.

The idea of ‘Samud’ which is referred to above is an important one in Mohammad’s work, and (as I have learned) for Palestinian people. Drawing on the work of Toine Van Teeffelen, here is what Mohammad says about it in his thesis:

[Samud] is the art of living to survive and thrive on their homeland in spite of hardship and under occupation practices. These skills of how to live are used in different aspects of life such as economic, political and social. They can also be used at many levels: individual, family and within the Palestinian community. Moreover, Sumud has been divided into two types: tangible resources such as the infrastructure supporting basic needs (for example, schools and hospitals) which enable the existence of the Palestinians on their land and help them to be more resilient. In addition intangible sources of Sumud also exist, which include: belief systems, religion and social and family support which help the Palestinians to cope with their chronic daily collective suffering.

For Mohammad, Samud is closely related to the more familiar (to me, at any rate) idea of resilience. Or, more properly put, Samud connects to social ecological variants of resilience which place as much emphasis on the social and cultural as they do on the individual.

I’ll stop here and leave people to download and read this new paper for themselves. For those interested, Mohammad, Aled and I are working on further publications from this doctorate: so more will follow in due course.

Prospects and challenges: revisited

In 1999 I wrote a paper for the journal Health and Social Care in the Community titled Joint working in community mental health: prospects and challenges. The back story is that the work for this article was mostly done during my first year of part-time study for an MA in Health and Social Policy, during my time working as a community mental health nurse in East London.

Frustratingly, I can’t find my original wordprocessed copy of this paper from which to create a green open access version for uploading to the Orca repository and for embedding a link to here. But not to worry. The abstract, at least, is a freebie:

This paper reviews the opportunities for, and the challenges facing, joint working in the provision of community mental health care. At a strategic level the organization of contemporary mental health services is marked by fragmentation, competing priorities, arbitrary divisions of responsibility, inconsistent policy, unpooled resources and unshared boundaries. At the level of localities and teams, these barriers to effective and efficient joint working reverberate within multi-disciplinary and multi-agency community mental health teams (CMHTs). To meet this challenge, CMHT operational policies need to include multiagency agreement on: professional roles and responsibilities; target client groups; eligibility criteria for access to services; client pathways to and from care; unified systems of case management; documentation and use of information technology; and management and accountability arrangements. At the level of practitioners, community mental health care is provided by professional groups who may have limited mutual understanding of differing values, education, roles and responsibilities. The prospect of overcoming these barriers in multidisciplinary CMHTs is afforded by increased opportunities for interprofessional ‘seepage’ and a sharing of complementary perspectives, and for joint education and training. This review suggests that policy-driven solutions to the challenges facing integrated community mental health care may be needed and concludes with an overview of the prospects for change contained in the previous UK government’s Green Paper, ‘Developing Partnerships in Mental Health’.

Fifteen years on the structural divisions remain. As with other areas, community mental health care continues to be funded and provided by a multiplicity of agencies, with ‘health care’ and ‘social care’ distinctions still very much in place. This year’s Report of the Independent Commission on Whole Person Care for the Labour Party and the King’s Fund’s work on integrated care are examples of recent initiatives aimed at closing these gaps. Labour’s Independent Commission recommends the creation of a new national body, Care England, bringing together NHS and local authority representatives at the highest level. Note, of course, that these proposals are for England only: these are ideas for health and social care in one part of a devolved UK.

In my article I drew attention to the problem of competing policies and priorities for NHS and local authority organisations, the lack of shared organisational boundaries, non-integrated information technology systems and separate pathways bringing service users into, through and out of the system. An illustrative example I gave was the parallel introduction, in the early 1990s, of the care programme approach (CPA) and care management. Here in Wales, with the introduction of the Mental Health (Wales) Measure there is now, at least, a single care and treatment plan (CTP) to be used with all people using secondary mental health services. But how many health and social care organisations in Wales and beyond have managed to integrate their information systems? This, I suspect, remains an idea for the future.

And then there are the distinctions, and the relationships, between the various occupational groups involved in community mental health care. In my Joint working paper I emphasised the differences in values, education and practice between (for example) nurses and social workers, and (perhaps rather glibly) suggested that the route to better interprofessional practice lay through clearer operational policies at team level. Getting mental health professionals to work differently together became, for a time at least, something of a policymakers’ priority in the years following my article’s appearance. Here I’m thinking of the idea of distributed responsibility, and ‘new ways of working’ more generally, of which more can be found in this post and in this analysis of recent mental health policy trends (for green open access papers associated with both these earlier posts, follow this link and this link).

Two other things strike me when I look back on this 1999 article and reflect on events in the time elapsing. First is how much I underemphasised, then, the importance and influence of the service user movement. Over 15 years much looks to have been gained on this front, and I detect improved opportunities now for people using services to be involved in decisions about their care. Services have oriented to the idea of promoting recovery, as opposed to responding solely to people’s difficulties and deficits. This all takes me neatly to COCAPP and Plan4Recovery, two current studies in which I am involved which are investigating these very things in everyday practice. Second, I realise how little I foresaw in the late 1990s the changes then about to happen in the organisation of community mental health teams. Not long after my paper appeared crisis resolution, early intervention, assertive outreach and primary care mental health teams sprung into being across large parts of the country. More recent evidence suggests a rolling back of some of these developments in a new era of austerity.

And what of the community mental health system’s opportunities and challenges for the fifteen years which lie ahead? Perhaps there’s space here for an informed, speculative, paper picking up on some of the threads identified in my Joint working piece and in this revisiting blog. But that’s for another day.

Education for community mental health work

This week brought a COCAPP meet-up in Bristol, where we had the chance to plan our work for the immediate period ahead. The RiSC team also met, albeit in teleconference rather than face-to-face fashion. I’ve had pre-registration student nurses’ assignment work to begin marking, and this afternoon will be taking part in a joint Cardiff University/Local Health Board discussion on the future provision of post-qualification modules for community mental health practitioners.

This afternoon’s meeting has given me pause for thought, and a chance to reflect a little on my long involvement in post-registration mental health education. It was explicitly to lead a full-time, one-year, programme for actual or intending community mental health nurses (CMHNs) that I was recruited into what was then the University of Wales College of Medicine in 1997. Education, and my role, have changed considerably in the period following. In Wales there is no longer a fully funded, full-time, course of this type. Like pretty much everywhere else, here education for health care workers beyond registration has increasingly become part-time, and modularised.

I once wrote about the CMHN course we ran in Cardiff in the journal Nurse Education Today. The article was titled ‘Specialist practice in community mental health nursing‘, and had an abstract which went like this:

Community mental health nurses (CMHNs) work in an increasingly complex health and social care environment. Over recent years, the evolving direction of general health service and specific mental health policy has directed CMHNs towards: the provision of clinically-effective interventions; a closer attention to meeting the needs of people experiencing severe and long-term mental health problems; the simultaneous provision of services to meet the needs of people experiencing a wide range of mental health problems presenting in primary care settings; greater collaboration with workers representing other disciplines and agencies; and the development of active partnerships with mental health service users. This paper explores the context within which CMHNs practise, and within which education programmes preparing specialist practitioners in community mental health nursing have been developed. One recently-validated specialist practice course for CMHNs is described in detail, with the intention of stimulating discussion and debate surrounding the practice of, and the educational preparation for, community mental health nursing.

I can’t claim that this paper did actually trigger any particular debate, but at least I tried.

I also had the chance, during the time that I ran Cardiff’s full-time CMHN course, to survey the leaders of other programmes of this type offered elsewhere in the UK. A paper called, ‘Specialist practice for UK community mental health nurses: the 1998-99 survey of course leaders‘ appeared in the International Journal of Nursing Studies. This was co-written with Philip Burnard, Debs Edwards (who, I am delighted to say, is now project manager for the RiSC study already mentioned in this post) and Jackie Turnbull. In the paper’s abstract we said:

Surveys of the leaders of the UK’s post-qualifying education courses for community mental health nurses have taken place, on an annual basis, for over 10 years. In this paper, findings from the survey undertaken in the 1998–99 academic year are reported. These findings include: that most course leaders do not personally engage in clinical practice; that interprofessional education takes place at a minority of course centres, and that course philosophies and aims are characterised by an emphasis on both outcomes (in terms of, for example, skills acquisition, knowledge development and the ability to engage in reflective practice), and process (adult learning).

And then there was a paper called, ‘Education for community mental health nurses: a summary of the key debates‘ which Steve Trenchard, Philip Burnard, Michael Coffey and I wrote for Nurse Education Today. Here we said:

A wide range of post-qualifying education courses exist for community mental health nurses (CMHNs) working in the UK. ‘Specialist practitioner’ courses emphasize shared learning between CMHNs and members of other community nursing branches. These programmes typically include course content drawing on the social and behavioural sciences, as well as on material more tailored to the clinical needs of practitioners. Such courses and their predecessors have been subject to criticism, however. Courses have been described as anachronistic, and failing to take account of recent advances in treatment modalities. In addition concerns about the generic focus of some programmes have also been raised. Educational alternatives, such as programmes preparing nurses and other mental health workers to provide ‘psycho-social interventions’ have, correspondingly, become increasingly popular. In this paper we explore some of the debates surrounding the education of CMHNs, and explore the context in which CMHNs work and in which educational programmes are devised. We consider the multidisciplinary environment in which CMHNs practise, the differing client groups with which CMHNs work, the developing policy framework in which mental health care is provided, demands for more user-responsive education, and the relationship between higher educational institutions and health care providers. We conclude the paper with a series of questions for CMHN educators and education commissioners.

And there are other papers and book chapters, too, which I won’t refer to now. But I am reminded that I once spent large parts of my working life running programmes for community mental health workers, and managed to research and write a fair bit about the same. Perhaps today’s meeting will lead to a modest rekindling.

Stress and community mental health nurses

A particular aim of mine in starting this blog was to bring research I have been involved in to a wider audience. So with this in mind, here is a post introducing readers to a series of studies I worked on, with Cardiff colleagues, from the late 1990s to around 2006.

The All Wales Community Mental Health Nursing Stress Study was our first project, led by Professor Philip Burnard. Included in the team were Deborah Edwards, Dave Coyle, Anne Fothergill and myself. Our funding was from the GNC for England and Wales Trust, and we aimed to find out about the causes, moderators and outcomes of stress in community mental health nurses (CMHNs) working in Wales. Our data were generated using a demographic questionnaire and these previously created measures:

  • Maslach Burnout Inventory
  • General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12)
  • Rosenberg Self-Attitude Questionnaire
  • Community Psychiatric Nursing Stress Questionnaire (Revised)
  • Psychnurse Methods of Coping Questionnaire

Our first published paper was this literature review, which Scopus tells me has thus far been cited in 66 subsequent publications. We went on to publish a series of data-based articles from the study, in some of the journals whose names I have added to the word cloud above. The references for these papers are listed here, along with a brief summary of our headline findings.

The team’s next study was a systematic review of stress management in the mental health professions. This was funded by the Wales Office of R&D for Health and Social Care, which was the predecessor body to NISCHR. We found far more papers describing how stressed people are than we found papers suggesting solutions to this problem. Follow this link for a reference list and project summary.

Finally in this series of projects was a study ‘to identify the factors that may influence the effectiveness of clinical supervision and to establish the degree to which clinical supervision might influence levels of reported burnout in community mental health nurses in Wales, UK‘. An expanded team this time included Linda Cooper, John Adams and Tara Jugessur. This study involved the distribution of two questionnaires, again to community mental health nurses in Wales:

  • Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI)
  • Manchester Clinical Supervision Scale

This project, too, has a webpage giving details of our main findings and of our published papers.

In the years since this last project concluded I have had conversations with people on what the next line of inquiry might be. The questions we first asked some 15 years ago seem to me to be as relevant today as they were then. I imagine there remain large numbers of very stressed and burned-out mental health practitioners out there. I also suspect there is still work to do to protect the well-being of staff, and to promote their resilience.