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2013, June 12th, City University, London,  Drysdale Lecture Theatre 

SKELLERN LECTURE,  Professor Alan Simpson - Peers, professionals and politics: mental health nursing in an age of austerity

Introduced by Karina Lovell


Should peer support workers be welcomed or feared by the nursing profession?  The unique expertise that peer supporters can offer mental health service users is increasingly recognised and valued as an important dimension in aiding recovery. But peer support is surfacing at a particular point in the history of the welfare state.


Critics argue that the government is using deficit reduction to shrink the public sector and erode the status of professional groups while trying to establish an army of volunteers to fill gaps under the banner of the “Big Society”.   The current government has accelerated initiatives begun under previous administrations where unqualified workers ostensibly employed to support professional staff have over time been forced to step up and replace qualified colleagues delivering core public sector services in a drive to cut costs. Meanwhile, attacks on professional groups have intensified as the case for outsourcing to a fragmented private sector and disparate charities is amplified. The value of professional qualifications has also come under attack, from arguments that say nurses are now too educated, to the recent relaxation of the need for those who teach in state schools to hold a teaching qualification. In the light of this political landscape should mental health nursing view the arrival of peer support workers as a welcome addition to the team, or a threat that will see the quota of trained nurses diminish and their expertise side-lined?  Are concerns about the emergence of peer support staff simply old-fashioned protectionism or a genuine concern for patient care, wellbeing and recovery? If patient recovery and empowerment is at the heart of the matter, what is the future for mental health nurses and what are the implications for effective collaboration?



Introduced by Shirley Smoyak

Malcolm was introduced by Shirley Smoyak who made the journey from the USA to hand on the baton of the JPMHN lifetime achievement award. Malcolm is a senior registered specialist in mental nursing/forensic psychiatry, mental health consultant, nursing educator and civil servant. He qualified as a MHN in 1968, and a general nurse in 1970. In 1973 he was appointed as NHS Mental Health Nursing Officer for West Manchester. He was subsequently appointed as director of nursing for the Wigan and Leigh Services from 1978-1986. From 1986, he was director of nursing for the Salford Services and the nursing team was awarded the first Mental Health Nursing Practice Development Unit accreditation.

He served as Director, Community Psychiatric Nurses Association, retiring after five years in 2002. From 2011, he served as Joint Lead Acute Care Programme, National Institute of Mental Health in England. He was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing in 2001. Following retirement from the Department of Health, he led a number of independent reviews into serious untoward incidents and sought to ensure lessons learnt from tragic incidents were actually implemented. In 2012, he co-founded an Award Winning Charity, ‘State of Mind Sport’ which used the power of sport to tackle stigma in order to prevent suicide and promote wellbeing. 


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Malcolm’s address to colleagues, friends and family, was sparkling.  A poignant and inspiring speech, reflecting on not only what was, but also what might become.  He offered a range of thought provoking ideas as to how aspiring leaders might learn from his experience.  He acknowledged the range of people who have influenced him along the way.  At the end Malcolm was given a standing ovation, and the applause lasted several minutes.  Professor Dawn Freshwater presented Malcolm with his commemorative plaque.

Short lists 2013 

Skellern: Dawn Freshwater, Jane Sayer, Alan Simpson

Lifetime Award: Mary Chambers, Malcolm Rae, Beatrice Stevens, Mary Watkins

Photographs by Russell Ashmore 

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