Gaining a better understanding of the current nursing shortage issue is a high priority for newly elected College of Mental Health Nurses president Suzette Poole.

Poole, who is currently clinical lead at Te Pou and formerly mental health director of nursing, was elected at last week’s Te Ao Māramatanga-New Zealand College of Mental Health Nurses conference in Hamilton.

“The first part of my role is to gain a lot more understanding what is happening with some of the issues facing mental health and addiction nurses,” said Poole.

That included finding out more about the nature of the current nursing shortage, where it is happening, why it is happening, what strategies are in place and what role the college as a professional body could and should play.

The former director of nursing said she wanted to know more about how current shortages differ from those in the past. She is aware that mental health nurse numbers are growing, but is also aware that new roles are being developed in the community and primary health, and she wants to know where the shortages are being felt most.

Poole said the success of the recent college conference also showed that although the sector is talking about mental health nursing being in crisis, nurses with energy and enthusiasm are still doing “some really great things” and taking on innovative new roles, particularly in the community and primary health areas. So, she said, it is also important to keep showing the potential of the profession and celebrating what mental health and addiction nurses are doing.

In response to recent bed closures in acute mental health units, she said closing beds is not a new thing. “It is a strategy that does happen from time to time. And it’s certainly not a decision that is made lightly at all.

“It’s a concern if people with lived experiences [of mental health and addictions] have a reduction in services because there aren’t enough nurses. That’s a concern.” She said she would be looking at how the nursing profession can help with the solution.

The college will also be monitoring how the promises made during the election campaign about mental health and addiction services are enacted, she said. “And where the college needs to have a voice and advocate for how health services can be improved for people with mental health and addiction problems.”

Poole trained initially at Tokanui Hospital and went on to specialise in forensic mental health and take on a range of clinical and leadership roles, including being a mental health director of nursing at Waikato DHB, nurse advisor to the Nursing Council, and an honorary lecturer at the University of Auckland.

Poole recently completed her master’s degree in nursing and is a Fellow of the college. She is also co-editor of Te Pou’s nursing newsletter Handover. She has been a member of the college since its inception and has served as a chair of the practice board and a college board member.



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