Aim. This paper reports a study to evaluate the impact of an innovative 18-day educational intervention for acute ward-based mental healthcare nursing staff on documented quality of nursing care and on service user views of that care.
Background. There are grave concerns internationally about the quality of inpatient mental health care for people with acute psychiatric problems. It is claimed that specialist educational courses are needed to improve these services. However, whilst such courses may lead to positive learning outcomes for participants, the impact on the actual care of service users is unknown.
Method. An uncontrolled before-and-after evaluation of three acute mental health wards from different United Kingdom National Health Service trusts was carried out. Quality of nursing care was evaluated by extracting documentary evidence from service user records, assessed by two independent researchers according to predefined quality criteria. The views of a purposive sample of mental health service users, currently receiving services from the three designated wards, were ascertained by semi-structured interview.
Results. Both documentary evidence and service user views revealed some important baseline deficiencies in the quality of care offered at the study sites. Following the educational intervention, statistically significant improvements were observed in the quality of care planning, initial assessments and the provision of therapeutic care. No statistically significant changes were observed in the quality of risk assessments, medication management or external agency involvement.
Conclusions. Education can have an impact on nursing care but may not be sufficient alone to change mental healthcare practices on acute inpatient wards in the radical manner demanded by policymakers and service user lobby groups. Educational interventions need to be implemented in conjunction with organizational changes that are specifically designed to maximize the opportunities presented by a newly skilled and positive workforce.