Let’s talk about mental health

Kay Haughton, our Director of Service Transformation, explores different perspectives on mental health and the enormous impact talking can have on people’s lives.

In 2008, 20-year-old Jonny Benjamin stood on Waterloo Bridge, about to jump. Neil Laybourn, a complete stranger to Jonny at that time, saw his distress and stopped to talk with him – a decision that saved Jonny’s life.

Jonny and Neil now work together campaigning for mental health and suicide prevention. I heard their story at my inaugural meeting with the Mental Health Collaborative last week.

The West of England AHSN, alongside our colleagues in the South West AHSN, contributes towards the collaborative, which aims to make care safer by improving quality in mental healthcare.

The study sessions this group delivers are now the stuff of legends and I was really looking forward to my first session. I knew it would be a tough day; the topic was suicide prevention and as you may know my brother took his own life in 1993 when he was 27. Michael had schizophrenia and had been unwell for a number of years.

During the latter years of my profession I have been very closely involved in mental health services. I have read many serious incident reports and have often reflected that my experiences have always been depressing.

But I was really looking forward to hear Jonny and Neil speak about their work. They came highly recommended… ‘In my world, the word inspirational gets bandied around a lot, but Jonny Benjamin is truly deserving of that adjective.’ – HRH The Duke of Cambridge.

Jonny and Neil’s work now takes them to schools, hospitals, prisons and workplaces to help end the stigma by talking about mental health and suicide prevention. The overall message is one of hope, especially as during the presentation Jonny told us he had recently relapsed and been in hospital the previous week, and yet there he was sharing his story with such humility and grace.

The south west collaborative had done a great job in securing them as speakers, and Jonny commented on what a well organised conference it was!

Their message is a positive one, and this is the optimism we need to ensure is shared. I wept most of the way through their story and a kind stranger asked me if I was OK. I told her I was fine whilst silently appreciating I realised I didn’t look it!

The truth was I was crying for a number of reasons, sadness at the unnecessary waste of my brother’s life: but more so with happiness that this was an uplifting story, that there is hope for people who think about taking their lives.

Jonny says: “Talking about my illness to other people who suffer as well as my family and friends has been a huge factor in helping me, and hopefully helping others along the way, too.

“We underestimate the value and importance that talking about our mental health has in society, because it can open up a door to a conversation that someone might need. Conversations really can save lives, I am living proof of this.”

Neil describes his contribution as a random act of kindness. This sounds small and yet the impact has been enormous, not just for Jonny but for all the people who have been impacted by the work they now do together. So the take home message for me was ‘It’s OK to talk about mental health’. It really is, and be kind.

All the sessions I attended were well facilitated and presented with the golden thread of quality improvement running throughout them. If you are interested in the work of the Mental Health Collaborative contact sallyashton@nhs.net.

And if you don’t already know Jonny’s story, I recommend you read his book, the Stranger on the Bridge.

My AHSN Connection – Tony Watkin

Tony Watkin is Patient and Public Involvement Lead at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust. Here he writes about how the West of England AHSN helped his team to develop a group of patient and public advocates who now help shape health services in the West of England.

I have worked with the AHSN since the early days of People in Health West of England (PHWE). We’ve all spent time trying to figure out the best way to give patients and the public a voice in the development and management of health services in the West of England.

With the support of the AHSN we joined up with partners at North Bristol NHS Trust and Bristol Community Health and, with an external facilitator, worked through how to train and support patients who wanted to take on an advocacy role.

Watching the AHSN pull together a team of public contributors inspired us and others to have the confidence to recruit and develop our own Patient and Community Leadership Programme. We learned from each other’s experiences and gained confidence to develop our work and approach. Pulling together 16 diverse individuals, training and developing them into effective Healthcare Change Makers has been a big leap for us all.

Where the AHSN has been so effective is at working across the system and bringing people together to provide mutual learning and support – even linking us up with other AHSNs who had valuable experiences to share.

Not only have we managed to recruit and engage patient leaders, we are also working together to advance thinking in the area. Traditional patient involvement can centre on simply harvesting information. Now we are moving to actively involving patients as leaders working collaboratively in designing change. Again, the AHSN is leading the way, and helping to provide a context for the rest of us to operate in.


This story is a highlight from our 2017/18 annual review: joining the dots to healthcare innovation. Check out the full review here.

My AHSN connection – Sandra Akintola

Sandra Akintola, Clinical Project Lead for Bristol Community Health, writes about how her work with the AHSN helped her to hone her networking style, make valuable connections and see the bigger picture to her work.

I first connected with the AHSN when I attended a network meeting in place of my manager. Although I didn’t quite know how I fitted in, I knew I was amongst like-minded people. As I got to know people in the AHSN it helped me see beyond my immediate role and see how my workstream fits in a bigger picture. I’m a natural networker, but the richness of the organisations the AHSN works with has helped me hone my networking style, and has introduced me to clinicians who have become my role models.

My role involves introducing new clinical approaches and monitoring their implementation, so I’m always open to new ideas. Where I’ve found working with the AHSN to be especially helpful is introducing the clinicians and clinical directors I work with to others, maybe working in different settings, trying to make the same changes. I’ve heard phrases like “I didn’t realise so many other people out there are doing this – it makes it seem real.”

It is this sharing of knowledge and experience that is so vital, helping clinicians feel part of a wider process of change and improvement. It makes sense to share knowledge, as we share patients all the time as they move from community settings to hospital and then back again.


This story is a highlight from our 2017/18 annual review: joining the dots to healthcare innovation. Check out the full review here.

My AHSN connection – Dr Damian Gardner-Thorpe

Dr Damian Gardner-Thorpe is a practising GP and CEO of the digital healthcare solutions platform Digital Algorithms. One recent Digital Algorithms product is ROVA, a platform designed to deliver social prescribing and other self-care solutions through clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and local authorities. Here Damian writes about how the West of England AHSN helped Digital Algorithms in their journey.

Designing and building a completely new platform to enable social prescribing has been challenging on many levels but the AHSN has helped us make a number of valuable connections. Initially they helped us gain grants to enable us to build the ROVA platform. Creating a new, fully secure system, that allows individuals to connect with a range of volunteering opportunities, guided by GPs and link workers, simply wouldn’t have happened without that funding.

Our initial funding brought together a group of 10 stakeholders, including Bath University, who now have a specialism in Social Prescribing within their Institute of Policy Research. For us, it has led to us working with Virgin Care to deliver the Wellbeing College to help residents of Bath and North East Somerset to access courses, activities and groups to support their wellbeing.

The AHSN has now helped us gain further funding to apply the technology we’ve developed to create VolHub. This application allows individuals to move through volunteering opportunities in a way that helps them develop skills and confidence and a CV of achievements and experiences.

Throughout our journey the AHSN has provided advice, helped us to access funding and provided key introductions. As a practising GP I recognise some of the barriers, but their support and backing has helped us understand and overcome them.

The team at Digital Algorithms are available to discuss any new software applications targeting community health and social care.  Please visit their website to get in touch.


This story is a highlight from our 2017/18 annual review: joining the dots to healthcare innovation. Check out the full review here.

My AHSN connection – Elizabeth Beech

Elizabeth Beech is National Project Lead for Healthcare Acquired Infections and Antimicrobial Resistance at NHS England, and a pharmacist for Bath and North East Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (BANES CCG). Here Elizabeth writes about how her involvement with the AHSN and the Q community has helped her to make productive connections and improve local practice.

I’ve worked with the AHSN on a number of different projects over the past few years, but recently I’ve found being a member of the Q community really valuable. When I joined Q, I set myself the challenge of setting up a community of practice to improve the management of urinary tract infections (UTI). I tracked down some really useful advice from other Q members about the best technology to use, and now host a great network of 400+ improvers discussing UTI issues across a number of countries.

Another productive connection occurred at a national Q event where I met an experienced Q member who wanted to improve GP engagement with his local diabetic improvement programme. BANES CCG were planning a process mapping workshop as part of our programme to improve GP practice based management of hypertension in the diabetic population. This was a great opportunity to import some expert Quality Improvement (QI) facilitation skills for our local workshop and enable GP engagement – a very definite win-win for both organisations and the GP practices involved.

Facilitating the use of QI processes in GP practices has also started to change the local QI culture, with some practices using process mapping to start to improve other elements of practice activity.

The AHSN offers so much more than the Q community – I’m also a part of the Primary Care Collaborative (PCC). The AHSN pulls together organisations in the West of England and makes it easier to collaborate across healthcare systems.

The AHSN and Q Community have enabled me to develop direct, purposeful working relationships with a whole range of other people working in and around the health and care system. It’s a community that allows you to dive straight in and get to the productive discussions that lead to improvements in safe and effective patient care.


This story is a highlight from our 2017/18 annual review: joining the dots to healthcare innovation. Check out the full review here.

 

My AHSN connection – Abby Sabey

Abby Sabey, Senior Lecturer at the University of the West of England (UWE) and Senior Teaching Fellow for the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care West (NIHR CLAHRC West), talks about her work, and how the West of England AHSN helps her to join the dots.

My work centres on teaching and training health and social care professionals in research and evidence-based practice. Working with AHSN allowed me to access key audiences, such as the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), which really benefit from having access to the latest research and thinking in this area. By working with the AHSN, an organisation the commissioners already knew and trusted, the CLAHRC was able build productive relationships with commissioners.

From the work we did together, it became clear offering our training electronically would be very useful, both within our region and beyond. We developed an online training package together and also, when it became clear there was wider need, we created a train the trainer package, which we delivered to colleagues from CLAHRCs and AHSNs from across the country.

Through the AHSN I’ve also worked with GP Clinical Evidence Fellows for the past three years. We have been able to support their knowledge base as they developed into champions for evidence within the CCGs.

Working with the AHSN has helped me and my colleagues to share and spread our research and expertise so it can have the greatest positive impact, by being put into practice at the heart of clinical care and commissioning.  It has been great to work with an organisation that shares our drive to use sound evidence to improve services.


This story is a highlight from our 2017/18 annual review: joining the dots to healthcare innovation. Check out the full review here.

My AHSN connection – Dr Seema Srivastava MBE

Seema was awarded an MBE in the 2018 Queen’s New Year’s Honours list for her services to the NHS in Patient Safety. Here Seema writes about her involvement with the West of England AHSN right from the start, and how we help facilitate the work she’s involved in.

I’ve been involved with the AHSN right from the start; I was already involved in regional Quality Improvement (QI) work. One of the things I remember, right back at the early meetings in 2012 was the range of people I got to meet. I was particularly interested in meeting innovators and people using technology to tackle some of the issues we were facing.

For us at North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT), the National Early Warning Score (NEWS) was high on the priority list right from the start. Working with the AHSN meant we could work alongside others, at University Hospitals Bristol and then in the community. We learn from each other’s successes and failures and take a standardised approach that has rolled out across the region and is now being implemented across the country.

One of the things I value most in working with the AHSN is the way they remove barriers and get people working together. The face to face meetings are both productive and enjoyable. The team there are also great at facilitating remote teams and keeping complex projects with dispersed teams on track.

It’s this ability to bring people together and focus their efforts that has allowed us to progress NEWS with the pace and scale that we have. I’m also working with them on approaches to Learning from Deaths and the ReSPECT advanced care planning tool. These are sensitive areas but with the support of the AHSN we are gaining wide-ranging and senior support and buy-in that will really help the development and adoption of these projects.


This story is a highlight from our 2017/18 annual review: joining the dots to healthcare innovation. Check out the full review here.