Update – Poor standards at 28 mental health units

Neglect is one of the consequences of poor standards at 28 mental health units
Old mental health Asylum

This post began with an article published in The Guardian: Psychiatrists called for inquiry after report on private units, many occupied by NHS patients. Inspector discovered poor standards at 28 mental health units.

I’d written that this is great news. Not because poor standards were discovered, but because it’s been reported and it’s out there!


According to the NHS

“One in four of us will experience mental health problems, and mental illness is the single largest cause of disability. Yet mental health services have for several decades been the ‘poor relation’ compared to acute hospital services for physical conditions”.

NHS, Five Year Forward View

The NHS goes on to detail — “What’s been achieved in England over the past three years?” and one particular point stood out for me:

“NHS England’s mental health taskforce has agreed a detailed improvement blueprint to 2020, in partnership with patient groups, clinicians and NHS organisations”. See Mental Health Taskforce Report, which states that

“It is therefore essential that all involved in the delivery of mental health services have the knowledge and skills required to deliver high quality care and have access to education and training.”


Mental Health Nurse training

Little white character of a man holding a large poster saying Staff training
Mental health nurse training — Clipart.com

Now, whether this all means only for NHS staff, it’s still a step in the right directions. However, when I was nursing, it was almost impossible to get staff to attend the Statutory and Mandatory, let alone any other training.

Mandatory and statutory training ought to be undertaken by all staff and is deemed essential for safe and efficient service delivery and personal safety. It reduces organisational risks and ensures organisations are meeting their legislative duties.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) write that “Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is additional to any mandatory or statutory training that an organisation may provide.

What does Continuing Professional Development really mean?

While there is no universally agreed definition of CPD, there is a broad
consensus that, in a nursing context, its main purpose is to help staff to
maintain and develop the skills they need to deliver high quality, safe
and effective care
across all roles and settings”.

Nurses must stay up to date with the latest developments, continuing to update their skills and competences to meet changing future population health needs effectively and safely.

Refusing to attend training courses is a reason for poor standards in mental health units

Ooh, if I had a £ for every member of staff that refuse to attend any more training courses than is necessary i.e. Statutory and Mandatory……… This still shocks and surprises me. We had access to our local University which offered so many nursing skills and knowledge courses and — all for free!

When I was a ward manager, some staff suggested I was picking on them if I suggested courses such as Verbal and written English. Once we’d ironed out that I wasn’t picking on anybody, I now had to enforce attendance on relevant courses. If staff still refused, they would be placed on what’s called Performance Management for a period of time. It would then be a job for me and the charge nurses to manage that nurse’s performance. What a performance palaver.

I really appreciated that our Trust granted me years of extra training to support some of my specialist roles. This included working with patients and their families, where the patient had schizophrenia and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) for Schizophrenia.

Over to you

What do you think about poor mental health standards?

Is it just me? I loved going on the courses to keep up to date with nursing practice. It made me feel more confident and competent at doing my job. Would you take the extra training if your Trust or company offered it? I look forward to your comments or thoughts and question.

Okay, back to where this first article started:

Patient’s fears about admission are real; an increase in poor standards in mental health units is observed at a national level

Patients are more depressed because of poor mental health standards.
Mental health patients bedroom. Design Pics Inc/REX

I’ve already mentioned some of the poor practices on mental health units I’ve come across in other posts. But there is so much more. Like the way some staff dismiss patients’ fears and anxieties. What appears to be a molehill for us may feel like mountains to patients.

When a patient expresses their fears about admission to an acute mental health ward, it’s extremely important to listen. This way they feel heard and know that you care. It’s particularly difficult for patients who’ve been sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1985 (MHA). Some are almost dragged from their comfortable homes by well-meaning (or not) family, carers, Social Workers and a Psychiatrist.

Patient fears are real for them

During the admission process it’s essential to accept that patient fears are real for them, and not to dismiss them. Some patients are acutely unwell and can be chaotic on admission. This means it’s important to continue the conversation as many times as a patient might need. Nurses that work on mental health units also ought to better communicate with their patients. They should know they have the right to appeal against their Section. And they should be provided with the correct paperwork to do so.

Patients experience low standards in mental health units first hand. They should know about Patients Advice and Liaison (PALS), an important service, which will support them with almost anything. They can make an appointment with the team who will come to the ward if a patient has no leave.

Private sector mental health units

Coloured image lady sitting at lap top and on the telephone
Nursing administration —Photo by Shutterstock.com

The Guardian reports “Inspectors have found 28 privately run mental health units to be “inadequate”. Regardless, this does not detract from poor standards within the NHS. I only had one elective placement (which I chose) within a private unit and I would never go back. Most of the staff were agency and who probably couldn’t get permanent jobs if they tried. They were rude, authoritarian and antagonistic not just to patients but to families, colleagues and students.

They didn’t like me and the feeling was mutual. I asked too many questions and ‘cared too much’ when I ought to be doing some work. They were referring to i.e. the menial tasks they couldn’t be bothered doing. What they didn’t know was that I had been doing secretarial work for near on twenty years. I loved doing the admin, completing computerised care plans etc. Being quick and quite good (compared to them) at it, I smiled throughout the shift – something that bugged colleagues when they disliked you.

Private sector treating patients badly

Poor standards in mental health causes incidents
Overdose of medication — mental health nursing

One particular famous client (they were called clients in private units) had overdosed on illegal substances many times. She was on methadone, an opiate prescribed by doctors as a substitute for heroin. Today she wanted to eat lunch before medication. When she went to get her medication, the nurse who’d been doling out meds had left the ward.

The other nurses wouldn’t give her the methadone and told her she’d have to wait. When a methadone user doesn’t receive a dose on time, it will trigger debilitating withdrawal symptoms like nausea and insomnia. The patient was agitated by this. I was p’d off because I thought the nurses’ punitive actions were totally unacceptable.

How I dealt with it

I went to the unit Manager who was sitting in his plush office. I then asked him whether it was standard practice to hold medication hostage. He tutted and exhaled heavily, put his muscled arms up behind his dreadlocked head and proffered an uncomfortable smile. “Mmm, Nancy is it? Look, she’s a pain. Man, she always think she can bend the rules.”

“Pfft, rules?” I asked. This is a healthcare facility isn’t it? I am in the right place?”

“Nancy, we only have enough staff to do the basics. Our staff doesn’t have time to run after clients whenever they want.”

“Okay, but Molly’s totally distressed now so I’ll go and talk with her and document all this in her notes.” I said with a sarcastic smile and walked out of his office. He wasn’t long in chasing me down the corridor, apologising profusely; therefore he was just having a bad day, he didn’t realise what staff were doing! He would get the medication now. I still documented this event in Molly’s notes and asked a nurse to co-sign it.

A typical example of an employee with low standards

The nurse who’d declined to give out the medication didn’t speak to me the rest of my placement? Was I bothered? It was one less idiot to listen to as she did nothing but whinge about the job. She would moan about various patients and kiss her teeth throughout her shifts. Spending more time on the computers, googling hairstyles and nail art. She must have not realised that somewhere in Head Office, the tech guys could easily follow what she was doing. They could see exactly how much time she’d spent online, and they could report her for time wasting.

Did no one care about low standards at mental health units?

Coloured image of black man sitting at his desk in front of a computer
Mental health nurse playing online games – Photo: Gettyimages.co.uk

Much of the time on this elective placement I felt so powerless and could totally empathise with patients. No one wanted to listen and no one cared! Staff appeared to find everything a chore and it seemed they only came in to earn money. See, nursing isn’t just a job. Being a professional nurse means the patients in your care must be able to trust you. It means being up to date with best practice. Always treat patients  and colleagues with dignity, kindness, respect and compassion. It means understanding the NMC code of conduct. It means being accountable. Katrina Michelle Rowan, 2010.

I was able to complete several PBA’s on this placement. And I also learnt more about how not be be a mental health nurse. I saw how poor the team’s communication skills were, both verbal and mainly non-verbal. I saw how badly they treated people, how unprofessional they were and how they lacked empathy for anyone. The staff on this placement tried to hold me back. Little did they know how much I gained and how much I’d grown by watching their indifference. I always say, there’s never a bad lesson.

Related posts: Clapped out: Mental Illnesses, abuse by services and #ClapForCarers (1). Acute care facilities and mental health facilities are below modern design standards (2).

Author: mentalhealth360.uk

Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

17 thoughts on “Update – Poor standards at 28 mental health units”

  1. I totally agree with it being good that it’s ‘out there’. There are far, far too many incidents in hospitals, mental health units and care homes, far too many poor quality standards, poor (bloody awful) nurses, and even abuse that you’d think simply couldn’t happen, but it does. I’m sorry your placement showed the negative reality, and I think I would have finished feeling the same in that I’d learned what kind of person and nurse I didn’t want to be. The example of the woman needing methadone and being told to wait reminded me of my stays in hospitals (not mental health) where nurses were unhelpful, ignorant, rude, where they actually put your health in danger through things they do or don’t do. It’s an awful experience for the patient to have to put up with it, too, and in a mental health unit that’s going leave a significant impact. Very poignant, thought-provoking post.
    Caz xx

    1. Thanks for your comments Caz (that’s my nickname too, by the way). I agree about general nurses too as I’ve been admitted several times and had to call out for pain relief following painful operations and procedures, only to be tutted and glared at. I always let them know I’m a nurse too and their attitude often changes dramatically. However, I did have one nurse say “well you know how hard it is then!” I could hardly believe it. I would have loved to have got rid of half the nurses and most of the ward managers!

  2. Again so true! I think I’ll comment those words a lot more in the future while reading slowly (this is at my pace) through your posts. Actually I have nothing to say except that I understand. It is so difficult to watch these practises and you can complain until the cows come home. My strategy was to go to the head of staff and ask one question: ‘What if I tell this to the family?” Do YOU have a sufficient explanation for this desicion that is being made? Then they would ‘wake up’ because we were ‘big’ on working with the context. Great post!

  3. Thanks for reading and commenting. That’s a good one, “What if I tell the family?” You’re right cos complaining gets you nowhere. When Junior Doctor’s were shirking and I ‘disturbed’ them when I needed medication for a patient etc and they said they were busy at another unit etc, I’d say “ok, no problem, I’ll just document that in the patient’s notes.” Ha, they soon came running. Great response x

    1. And if I look at those actions, like you described telling the doctor that you’ll ‘just’ write it down like it IS, all you do is hold them accountable for what responsibilities they already have. It’s as simple as that. It’s the point when the reality becomes the illusion in my view and the ‘hopsital becomes ill’ as I call it. I’ll give it a rest for now as it brings too much emotions. I got healing to do! Thank you for your response, makes me feel a little more ‘sane’ thinking about it.

  4. I was horrified on my psychiatric nursing placement as a student nurse. The way both students and patients were treated was nothing short of shocking. It came across like some people just get off on the power trip. I remember once describing how I love it when a patient is a surgical emergency in my general nursing ward, and if they’re in agony I can successfully make them completely safe and relaxed, both with correct combination of hefty medications, and a good dose of old fashioned reassurance: it often felt like a kid who is soothed by its mother when it falls over and where they feed off and mirror the strong, calming presence/voice/touch. The person I told this to turned to me and said how refreshing it was to hear someone who likes to GIVE rather than OVERPOWER and CONTROL, because a lot of nurses are attracted to the profession for reasons of the latter more than the former. Big difference between ‘doing for’ and ‘doing to’. You describe doing for… which can make people who are ‘doing to’ (rightly) uncomfortable. No wonder you weren’t viewed favourably!

  5. I have been admitted several times to the Mental Health Ward of our local hospital.
    I did not experience any thing bad.
    I live in Western Canada, the big problem here is our provincial government keeps cutting the budget for Mental Health. That in turn means less beds for the unit. I have heard that there have been times where they had to turn people away for lack of beds.

    1. Sorry to hear you’ve been admitted but I’m glad you didn’t have any bad experiences.

      Yep, it’s always the same as mental health becomes the poor relation.

      However, our governments continue to put billions into mental health. I’m just wondering where it goes cos pals and family still working in the NHS don’t notice any difference — yet.

      Here in the UK, we never turned anyone away due to lack of beds — we had to ‘make’ beds available in offices and clear them up in the morning before daily activities like ward round commenced. We were so oversubscribed and often, instead of the normal 20 patients per ward, we had 20-28 patients!

      I hope you’re staying well and you look after yourself . Caz x

      1. Yes, I can honestly say with proper meds I have bee quite stable for more than 10 years.
        I don’t take chances I stick with my regiment.
        I don’t know what the answer is for Mental Health Wards. Are we not catching people before they wind up in a facility?

      2. That’s the problem. If we could catch people before they have to be admitted – yes, that would be great.
        But I’m sure you know that some people don’t like to admit they have a mental health problem – so they continue getting worse — then they’re admitted.
        For me in the UK, I wish the Early Interventions and Community teams could get their act together and treat people in their own homes in the community/

        Much more effective for the patients and less expense for the local NHS Trusts? Who kmows, eh?

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