Success story against the odds – the university of ES3

Marva
Seon-Clarke manages an acute ward in one of London’s most deprived inner city
areas. ES3 at The Maudsley Hospital in Brixton has a challenging patient group
– 60 per cent are detained under the Mental Health Act – its physical
environment is grim, yet nurses also find it very difficult to find affordable
housing in the area.

Despite
all this, Seon-Clarke, a nurse for 31 years, bursts with energy and has
extraordinary success in recruiting and retaining staff. As one employee said,
"ES3 is the best team I’ve ever worked in. Marva is like Mother Earth,
pulling everyone together. It’s hugely supportive and staff development is
superb.

"Marva’s
work has seen 10 people move on to senior NHS posts. This place is known as
‘the University of ES3′. When staff go, they only go for promotion."

Seon-Clarke’s
view is that "you get back what you give". And give she does.

Nurses
new to ES3 spend two weeks getting to know their colleagues and visiting other
sites before taking on any official duties. "You can’t excel in a new
environment unless you understand how things work and who’s who,"
Seon-Clarke insists.

ES3’s
staff development programme is flexible and varied, with nurses encouraged to
identify things they would like to do, or to join ward-based research projects
such as that newly under way which aims to find out more about physical ill
health among psychiatric patients. This should enable nurses to deal with it,
as Seon-Clarke explains, "Helping psychiatric nurses to feel confident about
dealing with conditions like diabetes or heart disease should give a real added
interest to their working lives – as well as continuity of care to their
patients."

Seon-Clarke,
herself a mother, recognises that nurses may need help to juggle personal and
professional demands. "We have parents working here. If their child is
ill, we’ll figure it out so they can work 10am until 4pm, or whatever’s
possible. You can usually do it just by encouraging the whole workforce to be
open-minded and adaptable.

"We
also plan off-duty schedules six weeks ahead, not the usual two. People’s lives
outside ES3 are important."

She
also voices a frustration about matters beyond her control. "Nursing
assistants on £8,000 a year have mortgages or rent to pay like the rest of us.
I encourage them to do courses and extend their role, but can’t acknowledge it
financially. People will give more and stay happily in their jobs if they’re
encouraged to develop their potential, and should be rewarded for doing
so."

The
implications for patients of the generally poor state of psychiatric nursing
are worrying. While Seon-Clarke’s approach clearly boosts staff contentment,
the ultimate test of success is the impact of her system on patients.

Liz
Main, a 33-year-old PR consultant, was admitted to ES3 in 1999 for severe
depression. She describes the nurses on ES3 as "like a family, both among
themselves and to the patients".

And
with patients sitting as official paid members of all interview panels –
another of Seon-Clarke’s innovations – Main and others like her deserve credit
for their choices.

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