Eileen Skellern made a major contribution to the development of modern, interpersonally mediated, mental health nursing and following her death in 1980 a lecture series was founded in her name. Since 2006 the Skellern Lecture has been delivered on an annual basis, alongside a Lifetime Achievement Award. This combined event is now the UK’s leading celebration of excellence and accomplishment in the mental health nursing field, and on June 15 the School of Healthcare Sciences in Cardiff University was pleased to host the 2023 edition. Held in the Glamorgan Building, support from the Chief Nursing Officer in the Welsh Government enabled the event to be livestreamed with the recording now available to view through #mhTV.
Chairing the event was Dr Nicola Evans, Reader in Mental Health Nursing in the School of Healthcare Sciences, with the evening opening with a performance from Trudi Petersen. Trudi is a mental health nurse, writer and performance poet and her original piece carried the title, ‘We are the locksmiths’. This spoke to the contribution made by mental health nurses through the skilled, creative, use of self, and employed metaphors to express what mental health nurses do. Her performance was marked through the presentation of a commemorative plaque by Dr Alicia Stringfellow, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing in the School of Healthcare Sciences.
Steve Clarke, Mental Health Nursing Officer in the Welsh Government, welcomed people with an overview of nursing and mental health priorities in Wales. Steve works closely with Sue Tranka, Chief Nursing Officer for Wales, and in his talk highlighted ongoing work focusing on the development of the workforce, patient safety and the creation of a new framework for mental health care across the lifespan.
The Skellern Lecturer for 2023 was Dr Anne Aiyegbusi, who was introduced at the opening of her talk by 2022 Skellern Lecturer Dr Gary Winship from the University of Nottingham. Anne combines backgrounds as a registered mental health nurse, a psychotherapist and as a group analyst and in a 30-year NHS career has worked in NHS forensic services (including in the Caswell Clinic in Bridgend) and, most recently, as a principal psychotherapist at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust. Anne continues to combine clinical practice and leadership in mental health services with research and scholarship. She holds a PhD awarded by Middlesex University for which her supervisor was Professor Daniel Kelly, now in the School of Healthcare Sciences at Cardiff, and who presented Anne with her Skellern Lecture plaque.
In her lecture Anne spoke with eloquence and authority on the topic of ‘Mental health care and the enduring challenge of racial trauma’, referring to the cumulative re-traumatising impact of racism experienced over time through both individual acts of discrimination and systemic racism. Anne cited multiple ways in which this takes place, including through dehumanisation, the ‘adultification’ of Black children, through the deaths during physical restraint of Black men and through mechanisms of transgenerational trauma. Racial trauma, Anne argued, in her thought-provoking and moving address, that racial trauma is reproduced within mental health care settings, which serve as ‘locations of disturbance’, and in ways which are a concern for all. Anne’s proposals for action in response included a sustained focus on addressing transgenerational racial trauma in education programmes, authentic allyship with a diverse workforce and the creation of safe spaces to promote support, healing and resilience.
Recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award was Professor Mary Chambers, Emerita Professor at Kingston University and Emerita Professor in Mental Health Nursing at St George’s, University of London. Mary was introduced by 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Professor Kevin Gournay, Emeritus Professor at King’s College London, and with humour and insight reflected on her extensive and internationally influential career in mental health practice, research, education and leadership beginning with nurse training in Belfast in the 1960s. Reflecting Mary’s career in leading and pioneering advances in the field of mental health nursing, her address picked up the theme of being ‘the first’ in many roles. In an early, highly formative, experience Mary described having been part of the first generation of nurse behavioural therapists, following what at that time was an experimental course at the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospital in the 1970s. Via roles in the NHS Mary described her move to an academic position at the University of Ulster where she combined responsibilities for education, course leadership and research.
As Mary’s talk demonstrated, her interests and work over the years have expanded to include health care informatics, practice development including through collaborations with colleagues at the Royal College of Nursing, the measurement of nursing interventions along with a rock-solid commitment to meaningful public and patient involvement. In these fields Mary is now internationally known, with her first professorial position following the award of a personal chair at Ulster in 1998. For many years Mary also fulfilled a foundational editorial role at the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, and most recently served as a member of the Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy expert panel in the Research Excellence Framework 2021.
The event closed with the presentation of a plaque to Mary by Professor Ben Hannigan from the School of Healthcare Sciences, followed by a vote of thanks and a reminder that nominations for the 2024 Skellern Lecturer and Lifetime Achievement Award are now open.
Ben Hannigan, Stephen McKenna Lawson, Seren Roberts