What do people need psychiatric and mental health nurses for?
The study reported here aimed to describe, by consulting with psychiatric practitioners of different disciplines, what people in contact with mental health services need nurses for, in terms of core nursing activity. Yet, recent trends have also been towards consumer-led definitions of good practice. The views of service and ex-service users can contribute much to an exploration of the role of psychiatric and mental health nurses and these perspectives were incorporated into the study. Given the lack of existing theory, a qualitative, grounded theory methodology was selected. In order to generate data rich enough for the analysis, focus groups of psychiatric nurses, social workers, service users, psychiatrists, carers and professions allied to medicine were sampled (13 groups, n=92) on the basis of the themes emerging from the data. Using critical incident technique ( Flanagan 1954), the groups were invited to give examples of effective and ineffective nursing interventions, in relation to specific patient needs. The taped material was transcribed and analysed with the help of a computer package (QSR NUD.IST). This led to the selection of a core category, ‘knowing you, knowing me’, which described service users’ and professionals’ expectations that nurses are best placed to second guess the needs of patients and present themselves accordingly. Thus, nurses were expected, moment by moment, to know whether to be the patient’s friend, a friendly professional, or take a more distant professional stance. The continuum entails different levels of knowledge and power, different language forms and different approaches to structuring time. Nurses themselves are most likely to prefer a position of friendly professional, from which they can move to a more intimate or distant role. Further study is needed to explore how nurses predict patients’ expectations of them using a symbolic interactionist framework.