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'Why as a mental health nurse can I not meet my patients' physical health needs?'

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After attending an engagement review at the NMC, student nurse Helen was left wondering if the branches of nursing are too seperate

I recently attended an engagement review at the NMC, chaired by Lord Willis and Dame Jill Macleod Clark. Discussion was formed in the context of The Shape of Caring Review.

The event was attended by thought leaders made up from student and newly qualified nurses.

Dialogue proved to be lively, as we discussed what was missing from our pre-registration training in each of our respective disciplines.

Perhaps most interesting for me as a student mental health nurse was one common theme: we were all incredibly proud of our chosen specialisms, but all nurses felt like they did not have enough transferable core skills, that in fact we all worked in silos within our own fields and while this produced excellence it limited our ability to deliver truly holistic and person centred nursing practice.

“All nurses felt like they did not have enough transferable core skills”

It is widely accepted that mental health nurses are not perhaps as good as they should be at attending to people’s physical health needs.

I have often seen patients transported to general services, when they have become physically unwell and sometimes taxis are required just to transport people for simple blood tests.

But why as a mental health nurse can’t I do these things?

It produces delays in treatment, inconveniences patients and staff and wastes precious NHS resources in a time of austerity.

Conversely, it is also widely accepted that many adults nurses’ understanding of mental health issues and in particular serious mental illness is limited which again delays treatment for many mental health problems.

Adult nurses with a strong understanding of mental health issues, coupled with an understanding of the power of therapeutic relationships could potentially do so much more.

This is not just an issue that concerns adult or mental health nurses: adults and children live with learning disabilities as well as mental health problems, as well as presenting with identifiable medical or surgical needs.

”There is no doubt that our diverse population requires us to offer specialist care”

We each love our own fields of practice, that is why we chose them, and there is no doubt that our diverse population requires us to offer specialist care.

But what if working solely in them is inhibiting our ability to truly work within a biopsychosocial model? Wouldn’t it be better if we all had core and transferable generalist skills too? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to achieve the true meaning of holistic care?

Interestingly, Professor Dame Jill Macleod Clark concluded the discussion by stating that ‘we perhaps don’t expect enough of our nurses’.

I initially felt that this was unfair, but on reflection perhaps we do stick to our boxes, our fields, and do not consider that we could be so much more than the sum of our specialist parts.

Perhaps I see the world through rose tinted spectacles. But in order to truly optimise the skills of all nurses, and deliver excellence and a first class patient experience, would it not be wonderful if future nurses became generalists before they embarked on becoming specialists?

Helen Croft is a student mental health nurse, University of Derby


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Readers' comments (1)

  • Interesting article. I am doing dual registration (in both adult and mental health) and find that nurses do tend to stick to their field which can affect holistic care. I think we are getting better though in lots of areas. For example our local mental health unit has physical health nurses (adult nurses) employed to monitor and help with physical health needs. They should probably do the same with mental health nurses on elderly adult wards or emergency services. Good to see you talking about it :)

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