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What do nurses think about AMHPing?

As social workers, we possibly make too many assumptions about what nurses think about taking on the AMHP role. Well, thanks to a thoughtful paper by Michael Coffey (Swansea University) and Ben Hannigan (Cardiff University) just published online in the International Journal of Nursing Studies, we can gain some insight into the debates nurses are having about the role.

The paper explores a key dilemma for nurses in fulfilling both their biomedical and social functions in the context of the AMHP role. With medication prescribing powers and an increased focus on the physical health of people experiencing mental distress on the one hand, and with duties to consider social perspectives as AMHPs on the other, nurses are being pulled in two different directions.

The phrase ‘bio-psycho-social’ has been used to describe a mental health nurses’ role though in reality the focus has been on the ‘bio’ rather than the ‘social’. Coffey and Hannigan argue that nurses should exercise caution in claiming jurisdiction over social perspectives as these remain marginalised by the dominance of psychiatry in mental health services.

Turning to the issue of sustaining therapeutic relationships whilst holding coercive powers, Coffey and Hannigan suggest that nurses can learn from social workers who have long straddled the care-control continuum. Recognising that relationships fluctuate and that mental health nurses have considerable power even without the AMHP role, an appreciation of how relationships in mental health services are inherently complex is required.

The small number of community mental health nurses who have taken on the AMHP role have the opportunity to re-negotiate their relationship with psychiatry. However, like social workers, I suspect that little will change whilst biomedicine remains dominant in mental health services.

Coffey, Michael and Hannigan, Ben (2013) New roles for nurses as approved mental health professionals in England and Wales: A discussion paper, International Journal of Nursing Studies, is available free of charge online.

Share your thoughts with the authors on Twitter @benhannigan and @D10Coff

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