Mental health nurses in Norfolk are to swap roles with nurses in acute hospitals to help both sets of professionals improve their all-round skills.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has teemed up with Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust for the innovative rotation scheme.

The initiative, which is supported by the Norfolk County Workforce Group, is expected to start in June, and will involve nurses gaining experience in new surroundings for anything from a couple of days, for up to three months.

“Our nurses will be able to learn more about physical health, while partner organisation nurses will be able to learn from us,” said Michele Allott, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust’s deputy director of nursing and governance. 

“They will be working in accident and emergency and minor injury units, learning about things like wound care, while acute services staff who come to us will work in mental health crisis and assessment.

“They will learn about our services, and about how to use pathways rather than referring patients directly to crisis teams. This will help them to work more effectively with people who have mental health problems.

“We hope the rotation will benefit staff and patients on both sides. By developing practitioners who are more holistic and rounded in their approach we hope the nurses will become even more confident in their work with patients. And the scheme will prevent us sending people off to accident and emergency unnecessarily if the problem is something we are now able to deal with.”

Elaine Germany, who works on the Rollesby Ward psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU), at Hellesdon Hospital, expects to step into the shoes of an acute hospital nurse at Norwich and Norfolk University Hospital in June 2012.

“I’m hoping it will be a three-month rotation in accident and emergency, with the opportunity to go to other areas such as the medical assessment unit,” said Elaine.

“I have been a psychiatric nurse for 11 years, but over the last few years I have taken much more of an interest in the physical health of people with serious mental illnesses. In the PICU people look to me to handle issues relating to things like diabetes, obesity and wound dressing, and I wanted to cement that interest.”

Nurses from the James Paget Hospital, at Gorleston, are keen to learn more about dementia care, and will be working with Trust staff at Carlton Court, near Lowestoft. Meanwhile Elaine hopes the project will be a step towards improving the physical health prospects of people with serious illnesses.

“People with schizophrenia are about three times more likely to develop bowel cancer than other people. They don’t always get the help they need – they tend to be isolated, they don’t seek out help, and they may suffer from stigma. They may live in poverty, be poorly educated, and generally have fewer advantages; and when the symptoms come up they’re not always taken seriously. There is a big need for us to look more closely at both the physical and mental aspects of a person’s health.”

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