Practitioners welcome review’s aim to define mental health nurses’ role

    When the last review of mental health nursing was carried out 10
    years ago, nurses felt their contributions had been ignored.

    Despite this, last week’s announcement by chief nursing officer
    Chris Beasley of a review has been met with enthusiasm. And nurses
    and service users have every reason to be confident that this one
    will be more influential than its predecessor.

    The Department of Health review is seen by many as long overdue
    and recent and imminent legislation – not least the Children Act
    2004, the draft Mental Health Bill and the public health white
    paper – mean it is also imperative.

    Rapid change in the way services are delivered in the past seven
    years, including the creation of crisis resolution teams and
    assertive outreach, set out in the national service framework, has
    increased opportunities for mental health nurses.

    Although these are viewed positively, the pace of change has had
    several consequences. Among these are a confusion about the role of
    the mental health nurse and an exodus of the most experienced
    nurses from the acute sector. As a result, there appears to be an
    identity crisis about what it means to be a mental health
    nurse.

    “The context in which mental health nurses work has changed in
    recent years as a result of government reforms, lessons from
    serious incidents and new professional roles that have grown across
    the health and social care system,” Beasley says.

    The tight, nine-month timescale for completion of the review is
    a clear indicator of the renewed push to define what mental health
    nursing should cover.

    Welcoming the review, professional officer at the Mental Health
    Nurses Association Brian Rogers says: “We really need a steer about
    the way mental health nursing is going. We really need to look at
    what it is we should be doing and what we should not be doing.”

    He adds that a clear statement and set of principles about what
    the job involves is needed so that mental health nursing can remain
    a distinct branch within the family of nursing.

    The specific focus in the review on the contribution of mental
    health nursing to child protection is one example of how new
    pressures could shape the identity of the mental health nurse
    role.

    Rogers says that the attention given to this issue has been
    lacking in the past. “The significance of child protection has been
    largely underestimated. Many people working in health – not just
    nurses – have not really got a handle on the real impact of a
    parent’s mental health problem on their child,” he says.

    Over the years, child death inquiries have found shortcomings in
    the way health professionals manage child protection
    responsibilities. But there is little evidence that these findings
    have translated into improvements in practice.

    But the introduction of statutory duties on professionals to
    safeguard children and promote their well-being set out in the
    Children Act 2004 has increased the pressure to improve performance
    in this area.

    Greater clarity over the approved mental health practitioner
    role, outlined in the draft Mental Health Bill as a replacement for
    the approved social worker role, is also likely to be part of the
    review.

    Rogers says opinion is divided in the nursing world as to
    whether the new role is a desirable job. But it looks set to appear
    in the final version of the bill despite any opposition. As the
    newest addition to the roles mental health nurses can fill, it is
    therefore essential that those in the field are clear about what it
    involves. Ultimately, failure to do this will result in mental
    health service users losing out, as well as the nurses.

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