Substance misuse, ranging from the misuse of alcohol through to illicit Class A drugs – is one of the most challenging health issues facing health, social care and criminal justice sectors. Nurses, who represent the largest professional group working across these sectors, are increasingly working with individuals, families and communities affected by alcohol and other drug misuse.
On Monday 30 July 2012 a summit, hosted by the Association of Nurses in Substance Abuse (ANSA), and sponsored by Central Northwest London NHS Mental Health Foundation Trust, took place in central London. The purpose of the meeting was to facilitate a critical review of the competencies and capabilities employers across all sectors (NHS, private and third sector) are seeking from nurses in general, and specialist addiction nurses in particular.
Nurses lead the way
As part of a response framework, nurses have increasingly taken a lead in a wide range of substance misuse roles and tasks in their organisations. These include work in maternal health, court liaison, GP shared care, prison detoxification, A&E liaison, non-medical prescribing detoxification services, needle exchange, dual diagnosis, and blood-borne viruses services.
This development has been reflected in academic institutions and policy contexts, where nurses with expertise in addictions have taken on roles in teaching, research and policy-making. Nurses in all fields and with diverse levels of experience offer a vital set of skills and can play key roles within organisations managing the challenges of alcohol and other drug misuse – in prevention, early detection/intervention and recovery.
Seeking a common view
At this time of change, commissioners and managers need a clear understanding of the competencies required by nurses to undertake this work. ANSA is working with employers, commissioners, professions and policy makers to develop a consensus on this at a national level.
The meeting on the 30July 2012 is part of a range of activities (see CNO Bulletin, Issue 101, October 2011) that ANSA is engaged with – developing and skilling up the nursing workforce, so this group of professionals can play a significant role in realising the aims of the National Drug Strategy (2010), the Tobacco Control Strategy (2010), and the Alcohol Strategy (2012)
At the meeting, participants heard from key speakers (employers (Chief Executive Claire Murdock and Annette Dale-Perera, CNWL; Dr Kostas Agath, Addaction), policy advisors (Dr Ben Thomas (DH); Pete Burkinshaw, National Treatment Agency) and addiction experts (practice and education) (Dr Patrick Coyne, Raj Boyjoonauth, and Dr Lisa Luger).
In the ensuing discussion key points discussed included:
- Nurses in general have the potential to positively impact the emerging public health agenda, and make a serious contribution to the health and social targets set within the related alcohol, tobacco and other drugs national strategies
- Nurses offer ‘added value’ but they need to articulate this better and demonstrate to commissioners and potential employers how their skills are transferrable to the substance misuse sector
- Nurses ‘key value’ is their ability to offer comprehensive care to complex clients, many of whom experience co-morbid conditions related to their substance misuse, including physical and psychiatric disorders
- The independent/third sector has increased its contribution to service delivery becoming major employers of substance misuse nurses. In some cases, the role of nurses is perhaps less understood or supported. Nurses who have worked for the majority of their career in the NHS are concerned that in transition this may compromise their ability to be accommodated.
The meeting concluded with participants listing what employers, commissioners, educational providers need to focus on in their planning and development of the nursing workforce.
A summary report will be submitted to the Substance Misuse Skills Consortium to assist the work of this group, which offers guidance on the preparation of professionals working within this sector.
If you would like to contribute to this discussion, please contact Carmel Clancy, Head of Department for Mental Health, Social Work and IPL, School of Health & Education, Middlesex University and current interim Chairperson ANSA at email@example.com