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Taking the lead on mental health

Assuming the role of a national adviser for a health regulator sounds like a daunting task, but two mental health nurses have recently stepped up to the challenge.

Assuming the role of a national adviser for a health regulator sounds like a daunting task, but two mental health nurses have recently stepped up to the challenge.

East London NHS Foundation Trust’s director of nursing and quality Jonathan Warren, and West London Mental Health NHS Trust director of nursing standards and governance Vanessa Ford, have been appointed as the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) national advisers for mental health nursing.

Vanessa Ford is enjoying the influence her role as a national adviser gives her

Their roles will focus on improving the way the regulator inspects and regulates mental health services across England.

Working as part of a newly formed team of nine national professional advisers, they will help to inspect every NHS mental health hospital by April 2016.

They will chair inspections within NHS trusts, provide the CQC with advice on its regulatory actions and policies, and establish guidance and advice in key areas of nursing practice. The work will be undertaken alongside their existing roles for three years.

Neither of them had consciously aimed to move into a national role, but they were impressed by the new direction of the CQC towards a peer-reviewed system for inspecting services and its open approach in a post Mid Staffs era.

‘I saw there was a good opportunity to influence the quality of care,’ says Professor Warren, who started his nurse training in 1983 when he was 18. He has held a number of senior operational and professional roles across a variety of settings and is also visiting professor at City University London.

To place himself in a strong position for securing the role, Professor Warren prepared extensively before the interview, such as reading about the CQC and the organisation’s board minutes. He also had conversations with other CQC national advisers or people who have similar jobs.

Having already chaired one review for the CQC with another scheduled for later this year, Professor Warren has received a day’s training specifically on chairing inspections and is still undergoing an ‘induction period’ three months into the role. Ms Ford is about to undertake her training to chair inspections (September).

Professor Warren explains: ‘As chair of inspection, my job is to ensure there is good communication between senior members of the trust and the CQC.’

His role also involves ensuring trusts are well led; during the week of chairing, he interviews the trust’s chief executive, chair, directors and other senior members of staff.

Asked how he feels about taking on such a big responsibility to make the right decisions, particularly given how exposed a national role is, he says: ‘It is important to remain humble and to understand what you know and realise what you do not know, and when wrong decisions have been made you need to be transparent and honest.’

Learn about the organisation before an interview.

Speak to people already in the role to find out what it entails.

Network with nurses and key healthcare leaders and build strong relationships with influential people.

Never be afraid to seek advice from colleagues and peers.

Constantly develop your skills and experience and keep them up to date.

Develop strong communication skills.

Learn how to manage competing deadlines.

Share your thoughts and ideas with peers.

Take time out to reflect and think about your work and your clinical practice.

Ensure your existing employer will support you to work flexibly.

Ms Ford, who qualified in mental health nursing in 2000, is familiar with the inspections process because her current organisation was recently inspected by CQC and her previous employer – Devon Partnership NHS Trust – was one of the first wave of trusts to be inspected as part of the pilots to test the new inspection regime.

‘I am interested in compliance and regulation so now that we are going to have a new way for organisations to be rated by the CQC, I wanted to be in a position where I could influence that but also make it understandable to patients and nurses,’ she explains.

Ms Ford has specialised in and established eating disorder and personality disorder services in the private sector as well as the NHS and is completing a master’s degree in leading organisations.

She explains that plenty of networking with high-profile leaders and nurses, as well as good mentoring support have helped her progress her career.

In her CQC role, she is optimistic she will have ‘some clout’, explaining how she has been listened to when asked difficult questions, and feels well supported by her team of professional advisers.

‘I will never provide advice on my own,’ she emphasises. ‘It is important to make sure we give considered opinions and do not rush to give advice’.

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