Young people with mental health conditions in London are helping to train hospital nursing staff to better support others in crisis when they are receiving urgent medical treatment.
With the support of the charity Healthy Teen Minds, Barts Health NHS Trust has developed a training framework for hospital staff, which is believed to be the only programme of its kind in the NHS.
“This is a uniquely collaborative and exciting approach to the training”
So far, over 150 staff have attended the We Can Talk one-day training session, including children’s nurses, healthcare assistants, doctors and ward clerks.
A recent survey at Barts suggested many staff felt unable to respond to the needs of children and young people requiring treatment for self-harm, overdose, anxiety and depression, said the trust.
It found one in five of the 350 staff surveyed encountered young people with mental health conditions almost all the time, and most said they would like to improve their own skills in this area.
As the largest NHS trust in England, the organisation said its findings were likely to reflect the feeling of NHS staff across the country.
It noted that, while mental health services for children and young people in East London were provided by two specialist trusts, many would often attend accident and emergency when in crisis.
“We did something quite unique by taking the views of young people together with mental health professionals”
The trust runs three children’s A&E departments at the Royal London, Newham and Whipps Cross hospitals, caring for around three million young people.
Michelle Johnson, director of nursing for children, babies and young people at Barts Health, said: “I heard from many staff that they are caring for more children and young people with mental health problems than ever before, but lacked confidence and resilience to care for and meet their needs.
“Aiming to support staff to give the best possible care, we did something quite unique by taking the views of young people together with mental health professionals to create 10 core competencies and a bespoke training course that is actually led by a young person,” she said.
When young people were asked what hospital staff need to know about mental health, many felt there was a lack of knowledge of mental health issues, said the trust, highlighting that the attitudes and behaviour of staff had a great impact on their experience of care.
Felicity Mitchell, sister in children’s A&E at the Royal London, said: “We do tend to look at the mental health issue that we’ve identified rather than focus on treating the child or young person.
Young people supporting nurses to talk about mental health
“The training is definitely relevant to our work in A&E, discussing issues that we come up against and learning how we can approach them,” she said.
Robin Barker, senior nurse and director at Healthy Teen Minds, added: “This is a uniquely collaborative and exciting approach to the training – listening to mental health professionals, asking staff about their training needs and speaking to young people.
“Mental health can be awkward to talk about,” he said. “So in the training sessions we practice communication, looking at how well staff understand mental health problems and some of the difficulties they encounter in a space where they feel supported to really improve their skills.”