Tag: Nursing and Midwifery Council

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an independent review into SPQ, with the final report from this exercise making clear how poorly understood these long-outdated standards had become and how much a root-and-branch review was needed.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.

Educating nurses

The Nursing and Midwifery Council is consulting on its programme of change for education. Information can be found here, and there’s a lot of it. Mental Health Nurse Academics UK (MHNAUK) will be submitting a response, with Anne Felton from Nottingham University (who leads MHNAUK’s Education Standing Group) coordinating this work.

On July 11th, with mental health nurse academic colleagues in the School of Healthcare Sciences in Cardiff I spent part of our annual summer away day formulating a team response to the NMC’s proposals. Once we’re happy with the content we’ll be forwarding it to Anne, and simultaneously submitting directly to the NMC.

Individually and collectively, other mental health nurses will be formulating responses too. For now, the NMC confirms that the four nursing fields (mental health, adult, child and learning disability) will remain. For an explanation of the importance of preserving mental health nursing as a pre-registration speciality, follow this link for MHNAUK’s relevant position paper. But, as MHNAUK Chair Steven Pryjmachuk pointed out last month in this piece (ÂŁ) for the Nursing Times, the list of nursing procedures contained in the NMC’s draft standards of proficiency is heavily skewed towards the adult field. This is the Cardiff University mental health team’s concern too, and we’ll be saying so (with specific examples) in our response. Another place for this (and any other) view to be given is at this forthcoming WeMHNurses chat:

Meanwhile, last week ended with two days of professional doctorate teaching. With Nicola Evans I lead a module which addresses working in, and examining, complex systems of health and social care. We’ve run this module before, and as always the student group was a lively and engaged one. Amongst the things we discussed together are the connections running within and between systems of different scale, and the sometimes unforeseen consequences of introducing change. These are matters about which both Nic and I have written (see here, here, here and here). 

To link the two parts of this post together: the NMC is a big player, and for better or worse its programme of education reform will trigger significant disruption. A systems thinking perspective encourages us to consider the possible impact of the NMC’s proposals alongside other sources of change. These include the introduction of fees for student nurses in England, the arrival of nursing associates and reductions in the size of the UK’s registered nurse workforce. As cumulative shifts take place I’m hoping mental health nursing as a distinct profession emerges intact, with its current and future practitioners able to fulfil their places in a system which continues to very much need them. 

Nurses needed

Yesterday the Nursing and Midwifery Council issued a press release reporting on a continued decline in the number of EU-qualified nurses and midwives joining the register, and a simultaneous increase in the number of EU-qualified nurses and midwives leaving. Behind the press release is a longer report, from which I have extracted two tables:

EU trained nurses and midwives joining the NMC register for the first time. Extracted from: https://www.nmc.org.uk/globalassets/sitedocuments/special-reports/nmc-eu-report-june-2017.pdf
EU trained nurses and midwives leaving the NMC register. Extracted from: https://www.nmc.org.uk/globalassets/sitedocuments/special-reports/nmc-eu-report-june-2017.pdf
 Judged on these figures the number of EU nurses coming to the UK looks to have slowed to a trickle. Elsewhere, in its report In short supply: pay policy and nurse numbers The Health Foundation points out that in 2015 NHS England had 22,000 too few nurses specialising in the care of adult patients. The mental health field, The Health Foundation adds, is one where (for the present) tools to calculate safe staffing are virtually non-existent.

Meanwhile, UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) reports that applications for higher education programmes commencing in the 2017-18 academic year have declined across the board, but that it is nursing courses which have seen the sharpest fall. Applicants from England making at least one choice to study nursing dropped by 23% (to 33,810) in 2017.

The RCN, amongst others, has long been campaigning against persistent low pay for NHS nurses, arguing that a career which is so obviously poorly remunerated is no incentive to potential new recruits. Nor, for that matter, does it help efforts to retain existing staff. Previous reports from the RCN tell us that the UK’s nursing workforce is an ageing one

Taken together, the loss of European nurses in the context of last year’s EU referendum, chronically poor workforce planning, a nursing profession which is getting older (and will therefore lose members to retirement), the loss of bursaries in England and continued low pay make for a toxic combination. But things can be done. Agreeing the future security of EU citizens in the UK would be a start, along with removing the NHS pay cap. Reintroducing bursaries might help rekindle UCAS applications. Better planning of future NHS staffing needs is long overdue. Nursing, of course, remains a mightily fulfilling career and I would hate to think that this (admittedly rather negative) post puts off anyone contemplating a move in this direction. But it also serves to highlight some of the serious challenges which lie ahead.


#MHNAUK meets at the University of Hertfordshire

MHNAUK met on March 31st at the University of Hertfordshire, hosted by Greg Rooney and chaired by Steven Pryjmachuk. Anne Trotter from the NMC was welcomed for a detailed discussion on the development of new standards for pre-registration nursing, and on the NMC’s wider work to create a framework for education of which this is […]

via #MHNAUK meets at the University of Hertfordshire  — MHNAUK

Identity and education

One of the things I discussed with Swansea University’s Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) students today was how the emergence of a system of community mental health care opened up important new sites for the advancement of professional jurisdictional claims. For more on this idea of jurisdiction (which comes from the sociology of work) check out these earlier posts and embedded links to full-text articles here, here, here and here. It implies that in a dynamic division of labour professions engage in a constant jostling to cement and advance their positions, against the claims of others. The appearance of the AMHP role, fulfilled not just by social workers (as was the case with the old ASW role) but also by nurses, occupational therapists and psychologists, shows how the relationships between professions and tasks can change over time.

It is additionally the case that occupational groups are not homogeneous, but are internally segmented. This means that within a single profession differentiated elements can find themselves battling it out to control work and its underpinning knowledge, or to determine what counts as a necessary preparation for new entrants. And nursing, it appears to me, has plenty of form when it comes to internal divisions and disputes of this type.

With all this in mind, two papers caught my eye before heading off to teach this morning. Both are authored by Professor Brenda Happell. In her editorial in the current issue of the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, titled Let the buyer beware! Loss of professional identity in mental health nursing, Brenda says (amongst other things):

Most of the time, I feel eternally grateful for my decision to pursue a career in mental health nursing […] At other times, I despair and wonder about the future of our profession, and the care of people experiencing mental health challenges.

I’ll quote some more, as the full text of the editorial is behind a subscription paywall. Writing about the Australian context in particular (this being a part of the world where nurses are trained as generalists rather than, as here in the UK, for a specific field of practice), Brenda adds:

Some of my concern can be traced back to the professional identity of mental health nursing. Identity is such an important part of being professional, and how we consider and present ourselves both individually and collectively.


Mental health nursing is becoming integrated into other content, in the absence of any evidence to suggest this is an effective means of education and plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest it isn’t. Nurses without any specialist qualifications,
and often without experience in mental health, are increasingly teaching the content, medical-surgical wards are being considered suitable places to gain clinical experience in mental health, and nurses who work in mental health for more than 5 minutes are referred to as mental health nurses, despite not having the appropriate qualifications.

That’s a dismal picture indeed. Through a ‘jurisdictions’ prism it might be thought of as a case of one segment within a highly differentiated profession claiming possession of sufficient knowledge to capture the work previously done by another, and to reframe what counts as adequate educational preparation.

Brenda and colleagues’ second paper has just appeared in early online form in Perspectives in Psychiatric Care. Majors in Mental Health Nursing: Issues of Sustainability and Commitment reports findings from an interview study involving representatives of Australian universities which had committed to (or actually implemented) mental health ‘majors’ within their comprehensive undergraduate nursing curricula, but which then discontinued them. Noting the lack of sustainability of embedded mental health nursing options within larger courses of generalist pre-registration education, Brenda and her team conclude:

[…] these experiences suggest that the current comprehensive nursing education programs are not well suited to promoting mental health nursing education as a positive future career destination. While such apparent attitudes prevail, the workforce problems in mental health nursing are likely to persist and indeed worsen.

A dismal conclusion again, linked once more in Brenda’s analysis to a shift away from a pre-qualification route to specialist mental health nursing practice.

Arguments for comprehensive, generalist, nurse education and thus for greater homogeneity in the workforce are frequently made here in the UK. When the Nursing and Midwifery Council opened a consultation on proposed new standards for pre-registration nursing in 2007 it specifically asked people to give a view on whether the branches (Mental Health, Adult, Children and Learning Disabilities) should remain. Mental Health Nurse Academics UK (drawing in part on Sarah Robinson and Peter Griffiths’ National Nursing Research Unit international comparison of approaches to specialist training at pre-registration level) submitted this in its 2008 response:

Experiences from other countries that have gone down the generalist pre-qualifying nursing education route show that this leads to a lack of skilled MHN workforce, difficulties in recruiting to post-registration MHN training and a reduction in the quality of care and service provision for those with MH problems […] In attempting to achieve some unitary, generalist view of nursing to fit with other countries, many of whom are envious of our branch specific pre-registration model, we run the very real and significant risk of simply repeating the errors of others for no gain.

We’ve had changes in formal interprofessional divisions of work (which takes me back to this morning’s AMHP students, notwithstanding that all in this class happened to be social workers). But we’ve hung on to branches (or ‘fields’, to use the current nomenclature) in UK nursing, and continue to prepare nurses to exclusively do mental health work from pre-registration level onwards. Six years on, Brenda Happell’s cautionary tales from Australia remind us of what might have been had decisions been made differently.