MHNAUK group members were feverishly emailing our member list yesterday in response to news “exclusive” in Health Service Journal (pay wall) yesterday. This story followed an interview between HSJ’s Shaun Lintern Lord Willis who is leading the Shape of Caring review for Health Education England. The article also follows previously trailed statements emanating from this review at the English Chief Nursing Officers summit last month. The common message being relayed is that there is considered to be no longer a need for 4 branches of nursing and that all nurses should be educated first in “rigorous general nursing” before spending the final year in their specialism and a further year training and learning skills in practice with their new employer in a form of extended preceptorship. As a group we see this as a slippery slope to the kind of generic travesty that has befallen nursing in other countries and which many colleagues in countries such as Australia have long regretted.
It is true that the Shape of Caring report has yet to be published and we do not what advice Lord Willis and his team have taken, they certainly have not consulted with this group of nurse academics, but we are concerned about the language being used and what appears to be a softening up approach prior to fabled better future for nurse education that ignores the evidence and fails to involve all stakeholders. Importantly we see this as including people who use mental health nursing services and their carers too.
Below is our response in full sent to HSJ today and which may appear in some form should they decide to follow-up the the news story.
Chair of MHNAUK
11th December 2014
Shaun Lintern writes in the Health Service Journal (11th December 2015) that Lord Willis, chair of the Shape of Caring review envisages changes to nurse education that would see the loss of the current branches of nursing. One of those fields is mental health nursing. Those who practise in this area provide skilled compassionate care to some of the most marginalised and stigmatised people in society. We write on behalf of Mental Health Nurse Academics UK a group consisting of representatives of 65 Higher Education Institutions providing education and research in mental health nursing. As people long experienced in this field we are disappointed though not surprised to read your article presenting these views on the future of nurse education. We are disappointed because the evidence for the changes that Lord Willis claims are needed is largely non-existent. We are not surprised because we have been here before and can see that despite claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that this future for nurse education will deliver what it promises.
Nurses account for the highest number of professionals providing mental health care; the median average number of nurses per 100,000 of the population working in mental health is 5.8, more than all other professionals combined (WHO, 2011), making mental health nurses pivotal to the delivery of the WHO action plan. None of this is likely with a generic curriculum.
To be clear “the greater element of generalism” (which presumably means adult nursing) has been tried previously in the UK and found wanting. Internationally generalism has failed to deliver better care for people with mental health problems. The effect will be to dilute mental health nursing when there is increasing evidence that specialist knowledge, values and skills are required in the care of people with a range of long-term conditions and dementia. We remain unclear from your article what precisely is being proposed though our favoured suggestion would be for nurses to spend two years rigorously learning how to interact with people in compassionate ways that promote dignity and respect (core mental health nursing skills if you will) before launching themselves into the cold clinical world of high technology nursing.
The evidence from abroad and from evaluations here in the UK of the previous version of generalist frontloaded training (Project 2000; Robinson and Griffith 2007) show clearly that mental health nursing as a specialism suffered from a minimal focus on mental health in curricula and a depletion of mental health skills across the workforce. The strengthening of the mental health ‘field specific’ elements within the 2010 NMC standards reflected positive differences in areas such as language, the co–production of care and inter–professional practice. Any move to generic, or general (adult?) nurse ‘training’ as a start point for all will inevitably lead to a different set of values underpinning mental health nursing practice over time.
The expectation that the training of mental health nursing skills will be picked up and delivered in the workplace is without foundation despite the numerous examples to do this. The result will be that in an era of claims of parity of esteem people who use services will effectively be deprived of specialist trained nurses. Moreover, there is no evidence that current models of training are not fit for purpose or that a focus on generalist nursing skills will adequately address the needs of people with complex and enduring mental health difficulties.
The longer term effect of this approach is clear to see from countries who have moved down this road ahead of us, depleted services provided by unskilled workers, extra costs for employers in re-training and educating a workforce not fit for practice, difficulty in securing sufficient qualified staff to provide evidence based mental health care and longer term the stripping away of a set of skills in higher education that are unlikely to be replaced.
We don’t know what advice Lord Willis has taken to come to his view. Our worry though is that already the language being used here is designed to undermine professional skills that have been long in the making. For example, the unhelpful rhetoric embodied in the use of the term “silo” downplays specialist skills for the purposes of promoting something far less specific like “flexibility”. It is a largely hollow rhetoric and is never heard in relation to cardiologists, neurosurgeons or diabetes nurses. It seems that the pressure for change then is not one premised on the needs of people using healthcare services nor one based on the evidence of what works but driven by other factors that choose to position specialist nursing skills (and by corollary those who need these skills) as having little value.
We also note that any modification to the NMC’s standards for pre-registration nursing education and to the four fields driven by the Shape of Caring review will be felt across all parts of the UK. As an HEE-sponsored Review we are concerned that voices from parts of the UK other than England will not have opportunities to be heard.
We readily acknowledge that the full report is not yet due but wish to advance the notion of such a review democratically reflecting the voices of nurses and the people who use their services. In this regard we have been disappointed at the absence of any real attempt by the review to engage with our group specifically and have questions about the level of engagement with mental health service users more generally.
Dr Michael Coffey
Chair of Mental Health Nurse Academics UK
Professor Joy Duxbury
Chair-elect of Mental Health Nurse Academics UK
University of Central Lancashire
Professor Len Bowers
Institute of Psychiatry
Kings College London
Professor Patrick Callaghan
Professor Alan Simpson
City University London
Professor John Playle
University of Huddersfield
Professor Steven Pryjmachuk
University of Manchester
Professor Hugh McKenna
University of Ulster
Professor Doug Macinnes
University of Canterbury
Professor Karina Lovell
University of Manchester
Professor Geoff Dickens
Dr Ben Hannigan
Dr Liz Hughes
University of York
Dr John Baker
University of Manchester
Dr Mick McKeown and Dr Karen Wright
University of Central Lancashire
Dr Robin Ion and Emma Lamont
Dr Sue McAndrew
University of Salford
Dr Andy Mercer
Dr Naomi Sharples
University of Chester
Dr Majorie Lloydd