'Caught in the middle'? Mental nurse training in England 1919–51

Chatterton, Claire (2004). 'Caught in the middle'? Mental nurse training in England 1919–51. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 11(1) pp. 30–35.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2850.2004.00674.x


The early history of mental health nurse training is one that has only been partially researched. While some writers have discussed the content and impact of training on the development of mental health nursing, little has been written on the professional and institutional factors that influenced this development. The medical profession, psychiatry, was to play an important role in the development of training and regulation of nursing staff in the large Victorian asylums and was an important influence on the knowledge base of mental health nursing. Their professional organization, the Medico-Psychological Association (the Royal Medico-Psychological Association after 1926 when they acquired a royal prefix) produced the first textbook for asylum nurses in 1885 and established a national training scheme for them 4 years later. However, in 1919 the Nurses Registration Act established the General Nursing Council for England and Wales and this body was given statutory responsibility for the training and registration of nurses, including 'mental' nurses. They were soon to be in conflict with the Medico-Psychological Association. The two organizations continued to run their own rival training schemes for mental health nurses for over 30 years, the Royal Medico-Psychological Association finally relinquishing their role in 1951. The Royal Medico-Psychological Association scheme proved far more popular than the General Nursing Councils, with significantly more nurses participating in it. This paper discusses these organizational influences on the development of 'mental nurse' training and discusses the possible impact that they have had on the knowledge base of mental health nursing.

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