Tag: England

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):

Annotation 2019-06-06 120912
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.

Spring election, and the politics of mental health

It hasn’t always been like this, but mental health is something which politicians now talk about. In the run-up to next week’s general election mental health has even featured in public appeals to voters. The Liberal Democrats have particularly campaigned in this area, and in their manifesto promise £500 million per year for better mental health, and specifically make a case for investing in research. Labour talk about giving mental health the same priority as physical health, and the Conservatives say pretty much the same. Reviewing all the main parties’ manifesto promises for evidence of concrete plans for post-election improvements to mental health care, over on his blogsite the Psychodiagnosticator observes ‘that many of them were so vague as to amount to no promise at all‘. I think he has a point.

Possibly the broad manifestos produced in the run-up to a general election are not the places to look for fully worked-up blueprints of what future mental health policy across the UK might look like. Perhaps, more accurately, we should not think about ‘UK policy’ in this context at all. Members of Parliament elected to Westminster next week, from amongst whom a new government will be formed, will have authority to directly shape services in England only. Health and social care remain areas over which devolved authorities have jurisdiction, and for a ballot delivering a government with the power to pronounce on mental health care here in Wales we must look to the National Assembly elections to be held in 2016. I’ve indicated before that mental health policy here is different from that in England, and indeed from other countries in the UK. Consider again the case of the Mental Health (Wales) Measure. This is a piece of legislation for Wales alone, mandating for care and treatment plans, care coordinators, access to advocates in hospital and the right of reassessment within secondary mental health services following discharge. It was introduced in the face of some strong, pre-legislative, criticism from at least one senior law academic (Phil Fennell) who in 2010 began his submission to the National Assembly by saying,

The gist of my submission to the Committee is that this measure, although well-intentioned, is cumbersome, unduly complex, and will lead to a delay in providing services which ought to have been available already to service users and their families in Wales under the National Service Framework for Adult Mental Health and the Care Programme Approach.

Five years on the Measure has not only passed into law, but been subjected to a round of post-legislative scrutiny by the National Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee (see my post here), to which the Welsh Government has now responded. With data from across both England and Wales, COCAPP (and in the future, COCAPP-A) will have something to say about how care planning and care coordination are actually being done, and readers will be able to draw their own conclusions on the extent to which changes in the law trigger changes to everyday practice. And, whilst we’re in policy comparison mode, for a view from Scotland try Paul Cairney. He argues that divergence in mental health policy across the UK, exemplified by contrasting English and Scottish experiences of reforming the law, reflect differences in both the substance of policy and in policymaking style.

In all of this I am, again, reminded of the wicked problems facing all policymakers who seek to intervene in the mental health field. Whatever direction it takes, future policy will be open to contest and will surely trigger waves of consequences.

Monitoring the Mental Health Act: what’s happening in Wales?

Just enough time this morning to note this week’s publication of the Care Quality Commission’s annual report into the use of the Mental Health Act in England, and to pose a question. Here are word-for-word snips taken from the CQC report’s summary, covering the year 2012/13:

Our findings on the experience of people detained under the MHA are in the context of a system where:

  • The number of people subject to the MHA continues to rise.

  • There are nationally recognised problems with access to care during a mental health crisis. There is evidence that pressure on services continues to obstruct timely access to less restrictive crisis treatment. Service commissioners in local authorities and clinical commissioning groups need to give a higher priority to translating local needs assessments into evidence-based commissioning of services.


  • On almost all wards, patients had access to independent advocacy services. This is a considerable improvement.

  • We saw improvements in helping patients draw up advance statements of their preferences for care and treatment.

  • But more than a quarter (27%) of care plans showed no evidence of patients being involved in creating them. More than a fifth (22%) showed no evidence of patients’ views being taken into account. This is no improvement on the previous year, and is unacceptable. Services who do not demonstrate good practice in this area should learn from areas who are demonstrating that it is possible to deliver best practice.

  • We continue to see widespread use of blanket rules including access to the internet, outside areas, room access, and rigid visiting times. Some type of blanket rule was in place in more than three quarters of the wards we visited. Such practices have no basis in law or national guidance on good practice and are unacceptable.We continue to hear accounts of patients’ experiences of being restrained. In this report we promote examples of good practice where providers of inpatient mental health services have taken positive steps to reduce the use of restraint.

  • Health-based places of safety, for people experiencing a mental health crisis, are often not staffed at all times. Some have lain empty while a patient has been taken to police custody.

  • Only 17% of recorded uses of hospital-based places of safety under section 136 resulted in further detention, following assessment by mental health professionals.

  • Carers have told us they are not always provided with enough information on how to get help in a crisis.

  • In one area police told us that 41 young people had been detained in police cells over the previous year; the youngest was 11. This is unacceptable.

  • In 2011/12 and 2012/13 we were notified of 595 deaths of people subject to the Act. There were 511 deaths of detained patients, and 84 deaths of patients subject to CTOs. The majority of deaths reported to us were natural causes with a third of those taking place before the person reached the age of 60. Attendance to the physical health needs of people with mental illness must be a priority for all services. We will be working with partner organisations to review national data on all deaths and how this can be combined and shared to improve scrutiny and embed learning.

There’s plenty here to think about and act upon, but as a COCAPP researcher I immediately spot the CQC’s observation on the general lack of service user involvement in care planning. In its coverage, The Guardian emphasised the rise in numbers of detained patients, whilst Community Care ran with the headline, ‘Mental health system failings breaching patient rights and damaging care’.

In this part of the UK the work of monitoring the Mental Health Act falls to the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales. In addition, statistics on admissions in psychiatric hospital in Wales are published here, from which data from 2012/13 can be downloaded. Back on the HIW site I see a Mental Health Act monitoring report for the year 2010/11, which states in its summary:

We generally found detained patients to be cared for and treated by staff who have the necessary knowledge and skills, however, there were gaps in provision. We are particularly concerned that record keeping in relation to consent to treatment was not always appropriately followed. As the Act allows for some medical treatment for mental disorder to be given without an individual’s consent it is important the correct procedures are followed by organisations. We are also concerned that patients were not always being made aware of their rights in a timely manner.

The lack of activities and therapeutic input that was evident in many settings needs to be addressed and we will continue to focus on this matter in the year ahead. Access to therapies including psychologists was found to be variable between organisations. This is concerning as such therapeutic input can assist in recovery and lead to shorter periods of detention.

The HIW states in this document that it has responsibilities to publish its Mental Health Act monitoring findings on an annual basis. It is entirely possible that I’m looking in the wrong place, but I find it odd that the last report available online appears to be that covering the year 2010/11. Am I missing something?

Closing the Gap?

Earlier this week, over the border in England Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg put his name to a new policy document titled Closing the Gap: Priorities for essential change in mental health. The foreword to this includes the line that ‘Mental health is moving up the policy agenda across government’. This is a welcome assertion. It is also one which deserves to be examined alongside evidence of recent cuts in funding and retractions in services at a time of rising demand (see here and here for my earlier posts on mental health in an era of austerity).

This is a document listing 25 areas for change in four areas: increasing access to mental health services; integrating physical and mental health care; starting early to promote mental wellbeing and prevent mental health problems; and improving the quality of life of people with mental health problems. It closes with the maxim that mental health is everybody’s business. Initial coverage in The Guardian included a fairly straightforward description of the document’s content, and particularly its promise of increased choice for people using services and the introduction of waiting time targets. In The Independent, Paul Jenkins (from the organisation Rethink Mental Illness) was more searching, contrasting Closing the Gap‘s aspiration with what we know about frontline services:

[…] historically, mental health has always had a raw deal when it comes to NHS spending and accounts for 22% of illness in this country, but only gets 11% of the NHS budget. On top of this, over the last two years, we’ve seen a 2% cut in mental health spending despite increasing demand. Services which were already struggling are being squeezed even further. So how can the Government now make real inroads into significantly improving care and introducing choice when the services simply aren’t there? People are waiting months, even years for treatment.

If politicians really want to improve the lives of people with mental illness, we need to see investment in mental health services – in the very least services should not be cut. We should also be making sure that people who are too ill to work are properly supported with the benefits there are entitled to and with services that respond when and where they are needed. And when we see an action plan, it needs to set out specific commitments on how things are going to change and by when.

Well said. Personally I am minded to think, again, about the mental health field’s wicked problems, and how large-scale policy always contains just one version of what a system’s most pressing challenges (and their solutions) might be. Closing the Gap has plenty to say on what ought to be happening at local level (better preparation of commissioners of mental health services, more mental health training for primary care workers, more psychological therapies, and so on). What it does not unequivocally say is that ‘the problem’ may also be one of underfunding relative to levels of need.

I am also reminded of how local service change in response to national policy can lead to unintended consequences (something I have written about at length here). Here’s a speculative example to illustrate this point. Typically, mental health teams have responsibilities to respond in timely fashion to new requests for help (from colleagues in primary care, for example) whilst simultaneously providing care to people already using their services. Who knows, then, what the wider system effects might be when waiting limits for mental health services are introduced next year, as Closing the Gap promises they will? At local level, will redoubled efforts to respond to new referrals mean that the delivery of ongoing care and treatment will suffer? Will NHS organisations be tempted to establish new types of service specifically to reduce waiting times? If so, how will these find their feet in systems which are already organisationally complex? None of this is to say, of course, that waiting periods are problems which do not deserve to be tackled, but it is to say that actions to address perceived deficiencies always reverberate.

Divergence and difference in mental health policy

Yesterday’s main business was a there-and-back trip to the University of Nottingham to act as a PhD external examiner. Reading this (very interesting) thesis in advance, discussing with the candidate at viva and talking with supervisory and examiner colleagues over lunch has reminded me (again) how mental health policy and services in Wales and England are diverging.

As an example, there really is no equivalent to the Mental Health (Wales) Measure on the English side of the Severn Bridge. For those not in the know here, ‘measure’ in this context means ‘law’. The Welsh Government’s brief public summary of this piece of legislation says:

The Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010 is a new law made by the Welsh Government which will help people with mental health problems in four different ways.
Local Primary Mental Health Support Services
The Measure will make sure that more services are available for your GP to refer you to if you have mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. These services, which may include for example counselling, stress and anxiety management, will either be at your GP practice or nearby so it will be easier to get to them.
You will also be told about other services which might help you, such as those provided by groups such as local voluntary groups or advice about money or housing.
Care Coordination and Care and Treatment Planning
Some people have mental health problems which require more specialised care and support, (sometimes provided in hospital). If you are receiving these services then your care and treatment will be overseen by a professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse or social worker. These people will be called Care Coordinators and will write you a care and treatment plan – working with you as much as possible. This plan will set out the goals you are working towards and the services that will be provided by the NHS and the local authority and other agencies to help you reach them. This plan must be reviewed with you at least once a year.
Assessment of people who have used specialist mental health services before
If you have received specialised treatment in the past and were discharged because your condition improved, but now you feel that your mental health is becoming worse, then you can go straight back to the mental health service which was looking after you before and ask them to check whether you need any further help or treatment. You don’t need to go to your GP first, although you may wish to talk it through. You can ask for this up to three years after you are discharged from the specialist team.
Independent Mental Health Advocacy
If you are in hospital and you have mental health problems you can ask for help from an Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA). An IMHA is an expert in mental health who will help you to make your views known and take decisions in relation to your care and treatment (but will not take decisions on your behalf!)

COCAPP, as some readers of this blog will already know, is investigating care planning and care coordination in community mental health: so the Care Coordination and Care and Treatment Planning component of the Measure is a really important part of the study’s context. It will be interesting to see how far national-level legal and policy differences are ‘felt’ at the level of everyday practice.

There are other important differences in emphasis across the two countries, too. I hear anecdotally that to save money some of the work done by England’s assertive outreach and early intervention teams is being called back into comprehensive, locality-based, community mental health teams (CMHTs). Assertive outreach and early intervention teams, alongside crisis resolution and home treatment services, sprung up in England in the first decade of this century following the publication of the National Service Framework for Mental Health, the Policy Implementation Guide and the NHS Plan. Here the strategy document Adult Mental Health Services for Wales, which appeared in 2001, was strong in its commitment to CMHTs and as a result (I have always thought) we never had quite the range of differentiated services which England had. We have, of course, got crisis services in Wales, as I have previously written about here, here and here.

And it’s not only in the mental health field that policy and services are diverging. We have no clinical commissioning groups in Wales, for the obvious reason that the Health and Social Care Act 2012 applies to England only (for more on this, check out this post dating back to the time I heard Raymond Tallis speak at the Hay Festival).

NHS changes, and the state of research in nursing

Since publishing my last post the Health and Social Care Act has come into force in England. For a frontline NHS worker’s views on what this means, check out this commentary by East London GP Dr Youssef El-Gingihy. Personally I’m glad to be living and working in Wales. I am pleased to say that here there is still government support for an NHS which is funded, planned and provided with the public good in mind.

Elsewhere, within my corner of nursing (the academic bit) an editorial by David Thompson and Philip Darbyshire which appeared in the January issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing has provoked a series of robust, just-published, responses. These have variously been penned by Bryar et alGallagher, Ralph, Rolley, White and Cross and Williams. JAN also carries Thompson and Darbyshire’s rejoinder, through which the responses are responded to.

The debate has a number of elements. In their editorial Thompson and Darbyshire argued that the quality of academic nursing has declined, and that some nurses working in some universities occupy positions of seniority which their experiences and qualifications have not prepared them for. They also accused those they termed the ‘killer elite’ of running departments as managerial fiefdoms, without tolerance for critical enquiry or dissent. This month’s responses include pieces both for, and against, the Thompson and Darbyshire position. Interested readers can follow all this up for themselves through the links I’ve given above, and I won’t attempt to summarise the full range of views offered.

What I will say is that, for all sorts of historical and contextual reasons, it remains remarkably difficult to sustain a career as a nurse doing research. Funding streams for nursing and midwifery departments in UK universities are largely earmarked for teaching, and relatively few university-based nurses have had opportunities to study for research degrees. Amongst those who have completed doctorates many have found it hard to progress to become independent researchers. Large numbers appear to have returned to roles which do not include significant research components. Only a handful of departments have a critical mass of research-active nurses and midwives, leaving the majority vulnerable when key people leave or retire.

But we have to keep at it. What nurses do touches the lives of millions, every day of the year. Research has an important part to play in improving the nursing contribution: from finding out ‘what works’, to learning about the experience of people on the receiving end of nurses’ services, and onwards to establishing how care might best be organised. Taking a research idea and turning it into a proposal which stands a chance of securing funding through open competition is tough (ask a scientist or a historian: it’s just the same for them), but if we truly want a sound base for nursing practice then this is work which has to be done. And as I am currently learning all over again, actually doing research once funding has been obtained is never as straightforward as the textbooks would have us believe.

Disinvesting in mental health?

National Survey of Investment 2011-12Writing for The Guardian’s Healthcare Professionals Network this week, David Brindle reports that spending on mental health care in England has fallen for the second year in a row. He references unpublished figures disclosed last week to the House of Commons Health Committee, along with the 2011-12 National Survey of Investment in Adult Mental Health Services which appeared last August, and from which I have clipped these first two headline findings:

National Survey of Investment 2011-12b

The key figure here is the bit I have circled in red: that, in real terms, investment in mental health services in England in 2011-12 reduced by 1%. Last summer The Guardian reported the publication of this finding under the banner of mental health spending having fallen for the first time in 10 years, and if I am understanding David Brindle’s latest article correctly evidence of further cuts has been gathered since. Elsewhere in this piece Dr Hugh Griffiths, the Department of Health’s National Clinical Director for Mental Health, is quoted as having told the Health Committee last week of being ‘disturbed’ by reports of cutbacks to services in some English regions.

Meanwhile, via this piece in The Telegraph I see that the former coalition government Care Minister and LibDem MP Paul Burstow is heading up an independent Mental Health Commission with the liberal think-tank CentreForum. The Commission’s task is to ‘examine the state of mental health care provision in England’. This is a task made all the more urgent in the light of the finding, also contained in last August’s National Survey, of a £29.3 million reduction in investment in crisis resolution, assertive outreach and early intervention services.

All this paints a very bleak picture indeed. Reductions in funding and in services threaten to roll back the investments made in dedicated mental health care in the years following the publication, in England in 1999, of the National Service Framework for Mental Health. New Labour acted at tremendous speed in prioritising the mental health field. When in government Labour took action to develop community care through the creation of new types of services. It changed the law, put resources into improving access to psychological therapies and rewrote professional role boundaries. Some of the specifics were contentious, sure, but I for one did not doubt that the challenges of improving mental health and developing services were finally being taken seriously. In fact, Michael Coffey and I wrote about this period of policymaking in our wicked problems paper (which can be downloaded here). In this we urged careful consideration of the cumulative impact of policy actions, and the perils of trying to change everything in a complex system of health and social care all at the same time. But needless to say we made no case for cuts, which is what is evidently taking place around large parts of the country now.

As it happens, I can’t immediately find a Welsh equivalent for the Department of Health’s National Survey for England. If it’s out there, perhaps someone can point me in the right direction? It would be good to know the trends for investment in mental health services here in Wales. More generally, now I come to think of it, I want to learn more of the prospects for the future of the mental health system in this part of the UK now that the Welsh Government has a new Health Minister in Professor Mark Drakeford. The Minister is a Cardiff University Professor of Social Policy and Applied Social Sciences, and it will be interesting to see how future policy and services shape up under his direction.