Published: 22/07/2004, Volume II4, No. 5915 Page 8

In an area covering 3,000 square miles, including both urban and rural communities, it was inevitable that Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership trust would inherit a series of disparate practices.

Already the trust - an early implementer pilot site for the new NHS national pay, terms and conditions system Agenda for Change - is involved in a major modernisation programme that includes services, building stock and the workforce, using elements of the Skills for Health competence framework.

The trust's education and professional development lead nurse Martin Whiffin says: 'The mental health standards will enable us to offer more consistency of care across our patch.Where services are dispersed geographically, we will be able to use the standards as a consistent measure of the service quality.'

But the framework is also being used to build a curriculum for training staff in a new role for inpatient areas.

Trust associate personnel director Abigail Moore says: 'We have done a lot of competence-based work around new roles.And we are used to working in partnership with a range of other agencies, including higher education, local authorities, primary care trusts and the workforce development confederation, to help us to look flexibly at what they should be.'

Based on existing elements of the registered mental nurse training, they have developed an 18-month course in conjunction with the University of the West of England at Bath.

Last month, the first cohort of around 20 staff began the training, which is part university and part wardbased.Two intakes are planned each year.

'One of the most exciting elements of this training is that, for the first time, it offers a career structure and opportunities to existing unregistered staff that have never before been available, ' says Ms Moore.

Mr Whiffin says that the new roles that emerge will enable service users to access more quality staff time and more therapeutic interventions.

'The standards helped us to identify a wide range of potential competences.' l