Sunday, 24 June 2012

Back from Baltimore, and Back to the Future with Mental Health

From my perspective the 4th Nurse Education Today /Nurse Education in Practice Conference in Baltimore was a huge success. For many nurses and nurse educators, it is the nurse education conference to try and get their work presented. I was involved in 3 papers and 1 poster. Paper 1 examined how newly qualified mental health nurses learn to make ethical and effective decisions, developed and written with a young colleague, Gareth, just after his preceptorship year; paper 2 was a paper that examined the relationship between doing research and doing therapy, a paper developed and co-authored by my long term collaborator Sue.

And whilst I made no direct contribution to the 3rd paper it drew very much on the work we have achieved in the School in finding creative way to facilitate learning. This paper co-authored by 2 colleagues from the School and a student undertaken her pre-registration nurse education at Masters Level. She presented the paper and did so very well. She got a standing ovation and plenty of questions asked of her. Well done Tess.

The poster presented the story so far at the half way point of the EMPNurs project which aims to develop, deliver and evaluate the impact of new mentorship programmes across 4 new European Union countries. Erna and Nicole did a great job of presenting this work on behalf of the project team. At the NET/NEP conference each poster contributor has to make a 5 minute presentations of the work captured in the poster – some of these were very high quality presentations indeed.

Whilst the conference was a success, Baltimore as a place did not do much for me. Walking around the city I was moved by the Holocaust Memorial, and I intend to write about this experience and my feelings in a seperate posting. During the first 3 days of my stay there was a celebration of tall ships in the harbour and this meant there were thousands of people filling up every bar, restaurant and every available place to sit. However it did also mean that there was plenty of noise and colour out on the streets in the evening.

The conference dinner was held in the National Aquarium, and it was slightly strange to be offered fish canap├ęs and buffet whilst being surrounded by fish in tanks. It took awhile for the organisers to realise that being a vegetarian usually meant one didn’t eat fish.

And despite the time difference, thanks to the internet I was able to keep abreast of the UK newspapers while away. Last week The Independent newspaper informed us that the NHS is failing people with a mental illness. The news story was based upon the report How Mental Illness Loses Out in the NHS published by the Centre for Economic Performances Mental Health Group at the London School of Economics. This report found that mental illness accounts for nearly 50% of all ill health in people younger than 65, and that only a quarter 25% of people in need of treatment currently get it. The report concludes that money spent on treating physical conditions could be better spent on cost-effective psychological therapies, which despite some £400 million pound set aside for increasing access to psychological therapies, these are still not widely enough available.

The research was undertaken by a team of economists, psychologists, doctors and NHS managers. It says that mental illness is widespread and is generally more debilitating than most chronic physical conditions. The report notes that 33% of all families in Britain have a family member with mental illness. Additionally, nearly 50% of all ill health in those younger than 65 years is due to mental illness and only a 25% of those needing treatment receive it. The report estimates that 6 million adults have depression or anxiety and 700,000 children have a mental health disorder, that mental health problems account for nearly 50% of absenteeism at work and a similar proportion of people on incapacity benefits.

Mental illness accounts for only 13% of NHS spending on health despite the existence of cost-effective treatments. The report also notes that mental illness can increase the scale of physical illness and that the extra physical healthcare caused by mental illness now costs the NHS £10 billion a year. Arguably, much of this money could be better spent on psychological therapies because the average improvement in physical symptoms is so great that the savings on NHS physical care outweigh the cost of the psychological therapy. The report lead, Lord Layard argues that “mental health is so central to the health of individuals and of society that it needs its own cabinet minister”. Now there’s a thought!