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Support networks are vital for healthcare professionals and patient outcomes

Working in a small team in a large healthcare organisation can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness

New research announced during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week suggests that two-thirds of Britons have had mental health problems. For both healthcare professionals and the patients we interact with, being able to talk openly about mental health and ensuring the right support for people who need it is vital.

The issue is particularly important to me as a healthcare worker in one of the largest mental health foundation trusts in the country, which provides mental health care to people living in Birmingham and Solihull, a diverse population of over a million.

Working in a small team in a large healthcare organisation can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. That’s why I find the regional Infection Prevention Society Branch network – which I have access to as a member of the Infection Prevention Society (IPS) – hugely beneficial.

IPS represents around 2,000 members working in infection prevention and control. The IPS branches support members locally, hold regular meetings and provide a forum to discuss professional issues and meet colleagues. Quarterly meetings help give infection prevention practitioners access to educational sessions to refresh their knowledge and skills to share with team members, ultimately helping improve patient care.

The meetings provide a forum for professional and emotional support through networking. They are a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues who you wouldn’t otherwise see from one year to the next. Prioritising workloads does mean that it’s not always possible to attend every meeting. But online discussion forums, emails and telephone conservations mean that support and reassurance is never far away.

The IPS branches also help support and develop practitioners who are new to infection control and those who may be contributing to promoting safe infection control practice, such as link workers. Indeed, the regional network has given my new team member access to a three-day development course to support her learning as she advances into her new role. This, along with the IPS competencies, will allow her to grow and contribute new ideas and new ways of working.

As an IPS member working in mental health, I am also privileged to have access to the IPS Mental Health Specialist Interest Group. It functions in a similar way to the regional network, but is specifically for infection prevention and control practitioners working in the mental health and learning disabilities settings.

Having worked in mental health infection control for a considerable length of time, I recognise that mental ill health does bring a unique set of challenges. The Special Interest Group provides a safe springboard for ideas and addressing how to deal with issues that frequently arise.

The support and access to peers I get through the IPS Branch and Special Interest Group is vital. It provides me with important opportunities to share concerns and find solutions to issues, and also allows me to keep advancing my knowledge and skills to deliver the best patient care.

This Mental Health Awareness Week and beyond, let’s ensure all healthcare professionals receive the right kind of support – both for their benefit and patients’.

If you’re interested in becoming an IPS member, find out more here.

Nicola Roberts is a member of the Infection Prevention Society and acting lead nurse for infection prevention and control at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust