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Mental health academics warn generic training could ‘backfire’ on employers

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Mental health academics have made further calls for their field of nursing to be retained as a pre-registration specialty in a new paper which warns the potential move to generic training could “backfire” on employers due to fewer nurses with high-level mental health skills being available to them.

The Mental Health Nurse Academics UK group, which has representatives from more than 60 universities, has outlined its position on the future of mental health nursing at a time when major changes are being considered for nurse education.

Last year the Shape of Caring review of nurse education commissioned by Health Education England recommended pre-registration students spend more time on general training – including both mental and physical health – before specialising in their final year in either adult, children’s, learning disability, mental health nursing or other new fields such as community nursing.

”Many of the calls for generic nursing are from outside the profession: largely from non-mental health nurses and from managers”

Mental Health Nurse Academics UK

The Nursing and Midwifery Council said it would look into the report’s recommendations. It is also currently reviewing its pre-registration education standards for nursing.

The MHNAUK has previously warned the review’s proposals could lead to a dilution of mental health as a specialty, because a focus on generic training had in the past seen physical health prioritised.

In its latest position paper being circulated over the past few weeks, it said the changes to education - that were being proposed because employers wanted nurses with flexible skills covering both physical and mental health - could ”backfire”.

It suggested the proposals meant mental health nurses might have to train at a postgraduate level to achieve high-level skills in mental health care.

“A move to genericism with a postgraduate specialism in mental health could lead to employers having to choose between a pool of nurses with lower-level mental health skills or having to wait four-to-five, instead of three, years for a specialist,” said the group.

It also said “perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the whole generic-specialist debate” was that mental health nurses felt they were being denied the opportunity to determine the profession’s future.

“Many of the calls for generic nursing are from outside the profession: largely from non-mental health nurses and from managers,” said the group.

It noted consultations on changes to nurse training were often dominated by those working in the field of adult nursing which “sometimes uses its majority to, at best, drown out our voicec and, at worse, completely dismiss it”.

”At practitioner level, a better vision of integrated care is one where mental health nurses ensure they have context-specific physical health skills”

Mental Health Nurse Academics UK

“We are sure those in adult nursing would be irritated if their profession was regularly undermined by ‘outsiders’,” it added.

The group reiterated previous arguments that mental health nurses often only wanted to enter the profession because of the specialty they expected to work in.

“If this opportunity is removed, or if it requires additional (self-funded) postgraduate training, the profession is likely to lose recruits to other disciplines such as social work (as is the case in the US and Australia) or the psychological therapy professions,” said the paper.

It said this was in the context of the UK already struggling to train enough mental health nurses to fill vacancies.

The group acknowledged there was evidence that mental health nurses lacked sufficient physical health skills to care for people with serious mental health problems, but suggested this could be an “attitudinal, rather than curriculum” problem.

”We are not convinced that generic nursing programmes will resolve this skills gap and produce nurses with both high-level physical and high-level mental health skills”

Mental Health Nurse Academics UK

“We are not convinced that generic nursing programmes will resolve this skills gap and produce nurses with both high-level physical and high-level mental health skills.

“Despite initial good intentions, generic nursing programmes tend to regress towards adult/physical health nursing at the expense of mental health (and learning disability),” said the group.

It also challenged the argument that a move towards integrated mental and physical health care provision required generic training.

“At practitioner level, a better vision of integrated care is one where mental health nurses ensure they have context-specific physical health skills. In this set-up, mental health nurses acquire necessary physical health skills, not because of criticisms of ‘silo’ working or a drive towards genericism, but because of the needs of service users,” it said.

HEE has previously said that it was “only right” that mental health had the same importance placed on it as physical health and that this was “a hugely powerful impetus for improvement”.

It said mental health was a key priority for the NHS and that it was working closely with providers and key stakeholders to ensure the workforce was equipped to respond, available in the right numbers and had the right skill mix.

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • michael stone

    '“Many of the calls for generic nursing are from outside the profession: largely from non-mental health nurses and from managers,” said the group.'

    It seems possible that managers might see 'more generically-trained' nurses, as staff they can use more interchangeably in times of staff shortages: which isn't an ideal solution to staff shortages, compared to having sufficient properly-trained staff to hand.

    But, perhaps I'm being a little overly cynical ?

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  • Lol they will listen to professionals who have senior management roles that bare no semblance to front line ideals and academics arguably surounded by neo-liberal institutional demands. Same old, same old and nothing changes except lesser numbers. Short termism has led to this. Some of the newer forms of therapeutic approaches could have been amalgamated into the functions of the a greater MH nursing role, of which could have helped support those newer roles and in turn their survival. They rather pay band 4s to do some of those roles and now theyre being kept down again. Arguably the deskilling and prevention of skill began a long time ago in the name of neo liberal mangerialism and academia - who ever listens to nurses at the coal face? Our demise seems already assured.....

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  • As I have pointed out before, the current and previous forms of MH nursing training barely equip the newly qualified to function, so reducing the amount of specific MH content of MH nurse training will be a distinct backward step.

    This inadequacy was tacitly acknowledged by the concept of "preceptorship".

    And I repeat yet again that employers are already unwilling to support most staff in any training which isn't the stat and man stuff they need to maintain foundation trust status, so where does any one expect the necessary post-registration training that this will demand to come from?

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