Published: 24/03/2005, Volume II5, No. 5947 Page 12

Francis Lee is an activity nurse at the Thornella unit, Miranda House in Humber Mental Health teaching trust.

Mental health unit inpatients at Humber Mental Health teaching trust often experience difficulties and delays when trying to sort out benefit problems. Even following time-consuming telephone calls, situations still arose where the benefits agency or Jobcentre Plus asked patients to attend appointments they could not keep because they were being detained under the Mental Health Act. It was important to explain the effect letters from the agencies can have on patients with restricted movements.

Often patients have been unwell for a period prior to admission and have received no money for some time. In these circumstances patients who are told they will receive no benefits unless they attend an appointment can become particularly distressed.

Obviously, the agencies require specific information in order to process benefit claims. To this end, the agencies themselves wanted to be more customer-focused, and local staff were willing to work closely with us to explore how they could improve their systems.

I arranged an initial workshop for staff from the benefits agencies and health staff to explore the difficulties.

Prior to this I gathered a list of problems and questions from staff working in our inpatient units and the adult acute units sent representatives to the workshop.

As a result further workshops, specifically for staff from the benefits agencies, were arranged and held at Miranda House and facilitated by myself and clinical nurse specialist Yvonne Flynn. Sessions began by brainstorming attitudes to mental health, followed by an explanation of what it is like for someone to have mental health problems and how this might lead to admission to an inpatient unit. They learned about what happens during admission and the work the units do.

I also spent a day in the local benefits department and was able to ask questions and see at first hand how the department worked. The following changes have been made in our practice and the agencies:

an admission pathway system devised for benefits;

named staff who act as a link between agencies for specific benefits;

a patient transfer and discharge system, where a form is used to confirm to the agencies as the move by the patient occurs;

introduction of joint-working practices and the involvement in future working policy and development.

The agency staff found their work on changing attitudes to mental health so useful they returned to work and asked their managers to allow further sessions to take place.

There is now a waiting list for future workshops.