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Mental health nursing and nursing associates

The Mental Health Nursing Competence and Career Framework demonstrates a career in mental health nursing offers high-quality, meaningful clinical roles, from the newly-qualified registered nurse right through to advanced practice to consultant roles. It also shows progression can be through a clinical or managerial route and enables a long fulfilling career, working to the top of their capability. 

In this video, Melanie Coombes, Chief Nurse, Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Chief Executive, Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust, explains the benefits of the framework.

Nursing associates are trained to work with people of all ages, and in a variety of settings in health and social care, supporting registered nurses and enabling them to focus on more complex clinical duties. Nursing associates could make a valuable contribution to mental health services in a variety of settings. As well as bridging skills gaps, they could help improve the care experience by patients and their carers.

Nursing associates are regulated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, with the first cohort joining the register in January 2019. While it is a standalone role, it also provides a progression route into graduate-level nursing.

In March 2019, The New Roles Task and Finish Group made a series of recommendations to help get more nursing associates working in mental health. It was agreed we need to:

raise the profile and wider understanding of the role

share and showcase innovative practice

spread approaches that have supported trainee nursing associates to work in mental health (for example, working with lived experience connectors who have experience of mental health challenges to help trainee’s insight and understanding).

support a wide and inclusive approach to recruiting nursing associates into mental health settings to uphold equality, diversity and inclusion.

HEE blog on trainee nursing associates role in mental health

HEE Star 

The increasing demand for improved mental health services nationwide means more employers want to upskill and educate mental health nurses. The Mental Health Nursing Task and Finish Group concluded nurses have a wide range of skills to offer in mental health services – their basic training specialises in mental health and includes some elements of caring for physical health as well. With this in mind, the development of a mental health nursing career and competency framework to help nurses and services plan for and develop mental health nurses is necessary long term.

HEE will work initially to define the role and unique contribution mental health nurses make to both services and the wider health and social care system. Agreeing this will help us take forward work to help services get the most from mental health nurses and help those working in this role get the most out of their work and career. We are working to enable mental health nurses to work at the top of their potential through advanced clinical roles; as well as support them to have upskilling in areas roles unique to mental health, such as non-medical approved clinicians. We will also work in partnership with other initiatives on nursing, such as encouraging people to return to nursing. 


HEE committed to funding this year’s Florence Nightingale Foundation Leadership Development Programme, offering mental health nurses a unique career development opportunity.  It offers: 40 mental health nurses (2 cohorts of 20) and 20 nursing associates (working in a mental health setting) bespoke leadership development to become Florence Nightingale Nurses and develop as future leaders of healthcare.

Case study – Angela Hawkins, Registered Nursing Associate, South West London and St. George’s Mental Health NHS Trust

Case study - Rachael Betty, Universal Crisis Team Practitioner/Education Support Nurse, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust

Case study - Jen Connor, Assistant Practitioner, Cumbria

Case study - Samantha Manickum-Bird, Staff Nurse, Lancashire