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Posted on Feb 21 2022 by Fiona Bailey

What better way to mark Mental Health Nurse Day than by talking to a nurse who has been in the sector for nearly 30 years?

Jess Lievesley, who is currently the CEO of St Andrew’s, began his nursing career in 1996 in Cambridge. He was drawn to the field of mental health nursing after working as a Healthcare Assistant near Leeds and he wanted to make a difference to the care and recovery of people with severe mental illness.

He realised how rewarding it was working with people, and his personal circumstances of growing up with family members who experienced profound mental health difficulties helped dictate the path he chose.

He said: “I was convinced that I could improve care by becoming a qualified nurse and also, I’ve made no secret of the fact that my mum has had mental health difficulties over the years, so I think that probably played a large part in my decision making process.”

Since then Jess has worked in the mental health sector – originally in nursing, before becoming a commissioner and more recently held a variety of executive leadership positions in the NHS and here at St Andrews Healthcare. Until last year, inspired by the level of dedication that St Andrew’s nurses provided during the pandemic, he decided to return to the front line of nursing.

This meant Jess spent his annual leave and weekends carrying out clinical practice on one of St Andrew’s psychiatric intensive care units, while studying via the University of Northampton’s Return to Nursing programme.

He said: “Working back on the wards was so rewarding as it reminded me exactly why I got into nursing in the first place. For me, it’s all about the people, their recovery, and putting their needs first.

“I think it’s quite grounding to return to your roots and remind yourself of how you ended up working within the field of mental health. It helped to remind me of what’s important and how you can have a real impact of someone else’s life. Plus I think it’s critical that leaders with a clinical background remain connected to their clinical training as it drives better decision making.”

However, there is no arguing that mental health nursing can be challenging. But Jess is adamant that the positives outweigh the negatives. 

He said: “I think working so closely with an individual and helping them realise their full potential is one of the best feelings in the world.

“I’ve nearly always worked with people with severe and enduring mental health needs and it’s so rewarding seeing their recovery,  something that is so powerful when someone realises their potential.

“I can think of a few patients from the past, who I was told would categorically never, ever live independently. But, the quality of care of everyone around them delivered and their own personal commitment to their recovery, with the trust and the consistency among the healthcare team meant we did see so many individuals make the progress their efforts desired. This meant they could move on to live by themselves, within the community. I cannot tell you how amazing is it when that happens.”

But, just like other jobs, there are frustrations which Jess acknowledges have changed in the 26 years he has been in the profession.

He said: “Having recently been back on the wards I have seen that the patients we’re admitting have very similar needs to the service users I was caring for back in the late ‘90s.

“But, for a nurse now there’s a lot more computer-work and recording to be done. I also think the role of the nurse has become much more supervisorial and managerial than it once was. So, that means the amount of direct hands-on time you might have with a patient is now different, so I had to get used to that. But, the role of the nurse on the ward remains vital as they set the tone within the clinical environment.”

Jess, who prides himself on knowing many St Andrew’s colleagues personally, says he will continue holding the feedback sessions he has been doing recently and visiting wards as much as he can to learn first-hand how his employees are going to mark Mental Health Nurses Day.

He said: “That’s why I’m a big fan of awareness days that celebrate certain job roles, such as mental health nursing. They put these jobs in the spotlight, which gives us the opportunity to praise those already in the role. Also, we could be attracting new people to the profession that may never have thought of working within the sector before.

“We know we have a workforce gap and we’re not going to find new candidates by standing still, so it’s important we promote the success stories and celebrate or achievements because it’s very easy to become bogged down with all the challenges and to forget the good stuff.”

Please join in with the online conversation today to mark National Mental Health Nurse Day using #MhNurseDay and tagging St Andrew's in.