Comment

Bigger picture: Congress debate can get lost in translation

The interests and views of patients should be central to debate about mental health issues.
Roisin_Devlin

The interests and views of patients should be central to debates about mental health issues.

In recent years, it has been suggested that resolutions at RCN congress rarely spark debate.

With this in mind, the RCN Emergency Care Association (ECA) put forward a motion with the RCN Mental Health Forum that emergency departments (EDs) should no longer be seen as designated places of safety for people in mental health crisis.

Both groups imagined this would create a healthy discussion, which ECA chair Janet Youd began with a powerful poem that portrayed sympathetically a patients journey in the ED.

When the motion was opened to the floor, one of the themes of debate was that, while EDs are not the best place for people in mental health crisis, there must be an adequate alternative. Many speakers offered personal experiences of how inappropriate

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The interests and views of patients should be central to debates about mental health issues.

Mental health
Picture: Alamy

In recent years, it has been suggested that resolutions at RCN congress rarely spark debate.

With this in mind, the RCN Emergency Care Association (ECA) put forward a motion with the RCN Mental Health Forum that emergency departments (EDs) should no longer be seen as designated places of safety for people in mental health crisis.

Both groups imagined this would create a healthy discussion, which ECA chair Janet Youd began with a powerful poem that portrayed sympathetically a patient’s journey in the ED.

When the motion was opened to the floor, one of the themes of debate was that, while EDs are not the best place for people in mental health crisis, there must be an adequate alternative. Many speakers offered personal experiences of how inappropriate EDs are in a person’s hour of need.

To me, it seemed a professional debate, with ED staff bravely stating they could not give patients with mental health issues appropriate, dignified care.

Backlash

As a forum we were therefore shocked by the subsequent backlash on social media. Tweets such as ‘Nurses discriminate against mental health patients’ circulated, and many ED nurses who tried to explain the point of the debate received critical comments.

This made me reflect on the debate and how it translated into the public arena.

At congress, it was thought that nurses are fighting to ensure their patients receive a higher standard of appropriate care. But many of our patients understood this to mean they are not wanted in EDs or even that ED staff would discriminate against them.

The argument could be made that social media and partial sharing of facts created this storm, but I think that, as a group, we failed to consider how the debate may come across to patients.

This has been a harsh lesson learnt. Usually, we put patients at the centre of all we do and this should also translate through to RCN congress debates.

Otherwise, we are in danger of being seen as a group that does not want to treat patients with mental health issues.


About the author

Roisin_Devlin

Roisin Devlin is lead nurse in the emergency department at South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, Northern Ireland, and a member of the RCN Emergency Care Association

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