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A recently published report has raised concerns about access to adequate mentoring and supervision for newly-qualified mental health nurses.




"The period of time following registration as a health care professional, whether on completion of an education programme or following a break from practice, can be a challenging time. We all know that good support and guidance during this period is essential." 

Those are the words of the Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Health Commissions Officer in their joint foreword to the Department of Health's Preceptorship Framework for Newly Registered Nurses, Midwives and Allied Health Professionals, published in 2010.

Nowhere is the need for mentoring and supervision for newly-qualified or returning nurses more relevant than in the challenging field of mental health. The number of mental health nurses working in England has been steadily declining in recent years and there are serious recruitment issues, particularly in London. However, availability of either formal preceptorship schemes or less formal mentoring programmes seems to be patchy.

In July, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that there will be 21,000 more mental health nurses, therapists and consultants by 2021. However, as well as training and recruiting new nurses, it's also vital to deal with the issue of retention. The percentage of nurses leaving the NHS has risen every year since 2011/12. As former junior health minister Ann Keen says in her foreword to the preceptorship programme framework, what happens to nurses at the beginning of their careers is pivotal in encouraging new registrants to develop life-long careers in nursing.

In its recently published report, The Future of the Mental Health Workforce, the Centre for Mental Health (CMH) says that mentoring and supervision have been under-valued and given inadequate time and investment. In discussions with mental health professionals, the CMH found that the allocation of adequate time to provide mentoring was seen as vital, but was perceived as often being an issue. Similarly, access to clinical supervision was variable.

"Service providers should recognise mentoring for students and trainees as a core aspect of work for mental health professionals, with sufficient time scheduled for mentors to perform these duties, " says the report.

In 2006 a study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing looked at the impact of clinical supervision on the performance and wellbeing of mental health nurses in Wales. It concluded that, if clinical supervision is effective, nurses are likely to report lower levels of emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation, otherwise known as 'burnout'.

In 2010 a randomised controlled trial (RCT) conducted in mental health settings in Queensland, Australia concluded that there were a number of key issues in determining best practice for clinical supervision of mental health nurses. These included: agreeing an explicit, unified, positive position that is 'owned' by all levels of management; recruiting all nurses in the clinical setting to participate; allocate no more than nine nurses to each supervisor; and support supervisors through their own regular clinical supervision sessions.

In 2016 Nursing Times published the results of study in which mental health nurses shared their views on how mentoring of student nurses could be improved. One of the key issues highlighted by participants was the attitude and ability of the mentors. If students perceive mentors as lacking interest, commitment and teaching skills, they will have a poor experience.

"The relationship between preceptors and new nurses and/or nursing students cannot be underestimated," wrote Dr Susan M Eley, Assistant Professor at Indian State University, in a recent article for RN Journal. "It is our professional responsibility as licensed professional healthcare team members to help others to rise up to meet their potential. Reciprocal respect and support must be embedded in the nursing profession for those learning or new to the professional role."

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