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Ian Hulatt reflects on his 13 years at the RCN

Outgoing RCN professional lead for mental health Ian Hulatt approves of high profile figures discussing mental health, but wants the public to know that we no longer just need mental health awareness, we need services. 

Mental health candour has never been greater with this year alone seeing Prince Harry and footballer Rio Ferdinand speaking of their struggles following the loss of loved-ones.

These high-profile stories are getting people talking, generally and personally, yet leading nurses like Ian Hulatt are calling for a different kind of awareness.

RCNs outgoing professional lead for mental health Mr Hulatt, wants greater awareness by the government of whats really needed for mental health the right services to meet demand.

He praises Prince Harry and his brother the Duke of Cambridge, who spearhead the charity Heads Together, for being excellent ambassadors for mental health.

But he adds: I dont think we need any

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Mental health candour has never been greater with this year alone seeing Prince Harry and footballer Rio Ferdinand speaking of their struggles following the loss of loved-ones.

These high-profile stories are getting people talking, generally and personally, yet leading nurses like Ian Hulatt are calling for a different kind of awareness.


Ian Hulatt during the 2005 National Mental Health Nursing Conference at the University of Leicester, shortly after taking up his post at the RCN
Picture: News Team International

RCN’s outgoing professional lead for mental health Mr Hulatt, wants greater awareness by the government of what’s really needed for mental health – the right services to meet demand.

He praises Prince Harry and his brother the Duke of Cambridge, who spearhead the charity Heads Together, for being ‘excellent ambassadors for mental health’.

But he adds: ‘I don’t think we need any more mental health awareness. We need mental health services.’

The comments by Mr Hulatt, who has led on mental health issues for the college for the past 13 years, echo concerns raised in June by the outgoing president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Sir Simon Wessely.

‘I don’t think we need any more mental health awareness. We need mental health services’

Mr Hulatt was speaking to Mental Health Practice ahead of the government announcement of an additional 21,000 mental health professional posts by 2021, including more nurses in child and adolescent mental health and crisis care.

But the RCN continues to question where the extra funding and staff for the plans will come from, with Mr Hulatt writing in a later column for Nursing Standard that the intentions would only succeed if these two factors are addressed.

This is why Mr Hulatt’s wish list for mental health includes getting a handle on the ‘dark art’ of workforce planning and improved understanding about mental health nursing.

Nursing stigma

‘Mental health services are a good place to work. I think we need more awareness about what mental health services actually do,’ he says.

‘There are people out there who think it’s all about danger and risk and violence. But while that’s true in certain services, if you go to Broadmoor there are lots of people talking and doing other things.’

Mr Hulatt’s reasons for some ‘sensible’ workforce planning are set against a backdrop of ‘boom and bust’ for mental health nursing.

‘It’s hard to project how many [nurses] we will need when the service has been subject to such changes, in particular the changes that have been necessitated by the austerity programme,’ he says.

A report by the Care Quality Commission published in July 2017 showed the number of full-time equivalent mental health nurses fell by 12% – from 40,719 to 35,845, in the seven years up to January 2017. The report, the State of Care in Mental Health Services, came just a week before the government announcement about the extra posts.

12%

the percentage drop of full-time equivalent mental health nurses

Despite falling numbers, Mr Hulatt remains optimistic about the future of the profession.

‘While commissioned numbers may be low, the expression of interest from people who wish to enter mental health nursing remains high. Traditionally, we have attracted more mature students than adult nursing - that has been welcome because life experience is good,’ he says.

Bringing change

Mr Hulatt has seen a lot of change over his career, including the long-overdue reform of the Mental Health Act 2007 reforming the 1983 Act, in which he played a crucial role. This brought in changes including opening up ‘approved mental health professional’ (AMHPs) status for nurses – a role that was previously only available for social workers.

Nurse AMHPs are now involved in decisions about assessments under the Act, including removals to places of safety and inpatient hospital care. He lists this as among the RCN's successes for mental health during his tenure.

Mr Hulatt has also witnessed the continuting move to community mental health nursing, and he cites the growth in evidence-based mental health nursing, with an increase in academic departments and professors of mental health nursing as other significant changes.

‘The place that mental health nursing has in these academic departments is not tokenistic – it’s a recognition of the evidence-based knowledge that has been developed,’ he says.

One worrying trend in the profession, however, has been the rise in stress among the nursing population as a whole.

‘The stress that our members have is reflected through uptake of the [RCN] counselling service here, which has grown and grown,’ he says.

'Culture of coping'

Mr Hulatt says mental health nursing has a ‘strong component of self-awareness’ but he does worry that there may still be a ‘culture of coping’ and not asking for help.

Helping others directly is what he wants to do more of now, and so on leaving the RCN he is expanding his mindfulness work in the area of south Wales where he lives.

‘I am looking forward to getting back to where I started when I was 18, which is going back to helping people,’ he says.

Mr Hulatt, who is continuing training at Bangor University’s Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice, already teaches mindfulness to groups and individuals, and works as a counsellor in a further education college seeing students with mental health issues.

But as he reflects on his time at the RCN, it appears the college will be a hard act to follow.

He says: ‘It’s the best job I have ever had and my colleagues are the best people I had ever worked with.’

Profile: Ian Hulatt

Over the years, Ian Hulatt has been at the forefront of changes to mental health nursing.

As the RCN’s professional lead, his work involved working with other interested parties and lobbying government on changes to policies and laws affecting the field.

In addition to this work on the reforms to the Mental Health Act, he also in 2012 project managed for the RCN the Willis commission into postgraduate nursing education.

He also led the RCN’s response to the Department of Health consultation on minimising restrictive practises, which he says was 'really important and still continues to make an impact clinically now'.

Mr Hulatt is proud of work at the college on the exhibition on Out of the Asylum and the film it produced Mental Health Nursing: Keep it in mind.

He is also pleased that the college has embraced new ideas such as at this year’s RCN Congress where mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin gave a popular speech on his personal journey.

Further information

Heads Together campaign, spearheaded by Prince William and Harry


Flavia Munn is assistant editor, RCNi

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