Working on women's wards at South London and Maudsley

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Women's wards: a varied range of challenges

Women’s mental health wards are a way to get lots of experience in working with different mental health conditions. The environment is undoubtedly busy and challenging, but nurses will reap the rewards of gaining skills and knowledge fast.

Rachel Souster, one of the heads of pathway for acute inpatient services for South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, has worked as a psychiatric nurse on wards across the trust. “The work is incredibly varied,” she explains. “With female services you get admissions of people with a huge range of different issues. You do get that on the men’s wards but I think the variety is wider in female services.”

Psychosis, bipolar disorder, depression and personality disorder are just some of the problems a nurse will encounter on a women’s mental health ward. “One of the main attractions is that you work with patients with lots of different issues and can learn from them about their symptoms and experiences,” adds Souster.

“Women’s wards are a particularly good choice for newly qualified nurses, as a place to hone key skills. After gaining experience and developing transferable skills on an acute ward, you can go on to a broad range of services, including forensics and services for personality disorders and eating disorders.”

Nurses on women’s wards also get the opportunity to develop a good knowledge of women’s health issues – for example, the impact of medication on fertility and physical health issues specific to women.

“We know that people with mental health problems can neglect their physical health and may miss their GP appointments,” says Souster. “Working with female patients means you can support them to access services such as family planning and smear tests.”

It’s also important to understand the impact of a patient’s illness on her family, and her role as a mother if she has children. Souster explains: “Women are often the primary carer for their children, so this means nurses on women’s wards will be aware of the safeguarding issues and may need to liaise with social services.”

Souster believes an ability to cope with and support the emotional side of things is more crucial than on a men’s ward. “This is a generalisation but the way women manage their emotions is different from men,” she says. “Nurses on a women’s ward will have a greater need to provide emotional support and manage distress.”

At Bethlem hospital in Beckenham, Denis Richards works as a band six clinical charge nurse on Fitzmary 1 ward.

He’s relishing working on a ward that has only been open for three months: “Previously I worked on a men’s ward and here it’s a completely different challenge. I really enjoying working in this new team – you can bring fresh ideas and make your mark on the ward.”

Training and development is provided, to ensure nurses get a good grounding of the required skills. Souster explains that women on the acute wards have a higher rate of personality disorders than men. She is working with the trust’s personality disorder service in Croydon to develop bespoke training for staff on the borough’s women’s wards.

“Nothing beats learning on the job, engaging in what the ward is trying to do and trying to improve the patient’s experience,” she says. “There are lots of opportunities to contribute to and engage in different projects.”

Encouraging nurses to stay in clinical work as they progress is a key goal of the trust. For example, on the acute wards the trust is developing band seven clinical nurse specialist and band eight modern matron roles for senior nurses who are keen to stay involved in frontline clinical work.

“I like the challenges the work brings,” says Blessing Osefo, a psychiatric nurse and clinical team leader on Ruskin AL2 ward in the Maudsley hospital. “Every day is different and the women have a wide variety of conditions. We take all the acute women’s admissions from across the borough of Southwark in south London.

“It makes us very happy when patients get well and are discharged. It’s very rewarding. It shows we are doing what we are supposed to be doing.”

The acute women’s wards are an exciting place to work with innovative projects taking place. With funding from the Maudsley Charity, the psychiatric intensive care ward Eileen Skellern 1 has recently introduced a sensory room to help patients relax and de-escalate situations, with different lighting, sounds and textures to explore.

Souster explains why the wards offer such rewarding work: “Women’s wards have their challenges but if you learn how to work that way and you have a good strong team, they are really interesting places to work. There are so many opportunities to make real differences with the individual patients.”

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This article was supplied by South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust for The Guardian.

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