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Posted on Aug 7 2023 by Fiona Bailey

An ambitious work experience placement in Tanzania has given one student nurse an insight into the current mental health treatment approaches in the African country.  

Lisa Whenman who has been studying on the St Andrew’s Healthcare Aspire programme flew out in February to gain her work experience in a clinical setting she had never before visited.

The 27-year-old said: “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I absolutely knew that I wanted to complete my training abroad and do an international placement. The trip was amazing and I learnt so much and met such amazing people.

“When it came to the hospital setting, as anticipated the surroundings were quite challenging, especially the psychiatry department. I got a real insight into their treatment approach which, if I’m honest, was actually worse than I had imagined it would be.

“All the patients were treated in just one room and most of the time the air conditioning didn’t work which made the room feel warm and sticky the whole time. Upsettingly, all the patients were heavily really sedated and there was still a lot of mechanical restraint being used. They were also kept behind bars, very much like a prison cell.

“What also made me really sad was the lack of patient interaction. There was an arts room, but this wasn’t used very often and I certainly never saw any of the acute patients in there. Here at St Andrew’s we know how hugely beneficial art, music and education can be which is why we invest so much time in bringing these activities to our patients.

“I also noticed that staff rarely spoke to the patients unless it was medication round, morning ward rounds or when giving meals. This all felt very alien to me because at St Andrew’s our patients are at the heart of their treatment and we work hard to encourage co-production, empowering them to have a voice.

“I found my experience in the psychiatry department really tested my ethics and morals. I cried multiple times witnessing the conditions and how people were being treated. When you are seeing these kind of living conditions that these humans are being forces to live in, I found it tough.

“However, I did encounter small pockets of hope after speaking with some of the more younger and newest members of staff who were showed signs of wanting to move beyond the current approaches and actively trying to improve patient care.”

Although Lisa’s work experience was tough, she did get a chance to explore parts of the country. She made friends, went on long hikes, took a weekend trip to Zanzibar and went on safari.

She added: “It was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever done and I’ve made some friends for life. The experience made me so grateful for the life I have and the care I’m able to provide, as well as give me a much deeper appreciation for the NHS and the healthcare system in the UK. It’s also made me very proud of the nurturing and caring approach we have with our patients at St Andrew’s, as well as all the meaningful activity we provide everyone with on a daily basis.”