Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, reflects on a tough few weeks of headlines for mental health
Many senior leaders have heralded 2017 as “mental health’s moment”.
The government’s focus on improving services has been welcomed and, through the Five Year Forward View, we are starting to see change on the ground, led by a determined NHS England and committed leaders up and down the country.
Alongside this we’ve had positive campaigns, even one led by members of the royal family, which are positively impacting on stigma.
Yes, things are tough, but despite this I have seen many examples showing mental health as part of the solution to relieving pressures on other parts of the health service
However, the last few weeks have seen headlines imply a turnaround in mental health’s fortunes, painting a gloomy picture of services in disarray and making it difficult to feel upbeat about the transformation that’s under way. Stories about patients stranded in inpatient units, the worrying news of a lack of suitable CAMHS beds across the country, and headlines about serious incidents at mental health trusts make for stark reading.
But I know it’s not all doom and gloom. My role as chief executive of the Mental Health Network takes me up and down the country meeting our members from trusts, charities, the independent sector and housing, witnessing first hand the fantastic work that is going on.
Yes, things are tough, but despite this I have seen many examples showing mental health as part of the solution to relieving pressures on other parts of the health service, proving why the government needs to deliver on its promises to help us continue to transform our services.
For example, in south London, local mental health trusts (Oxleas, South London and Maudsley, South West London and St Georges) are collaborating through the South London Mental Health and Community Partnership to improve quality, outcomes and efficiency.
As well as working together on recruitment of nurses and being chosen to provide Tier 4 CAMHS services, they have also been delivering a new care model for forensic mental health services in the area with the primary aim to bring patients who are being treated outside of the area back into local care as well as reducing costs.
In Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys Foundation Trust, there is some fantastic work going on around quality improvement. The trust’s quality improvement system, TEWV QIS, maximises quality and eliminates waste.
They are now working with other NHS providers across acute, mental health, local authority and CCGs implementing the successful methodology and supporting the delivery of transformational change.
Alongside this I’ve also seen first-hand how the Discovery College in Sussex is making a significant impact on the lives of young people, how Look Ahead Care and Support are reducing hospital discharge delays by helping patients find appropriate housing to move into, and how in Cheshire and Wirral the Young Advisor Mental Health training programme has delivered training in A&E, GP surgeries and paediatric wards on young people’s mental health. The list is endless. Transformation and change is happening and it is making a difference.
We must continue to hold the government to account on what my predecessor Stephen Dalton called, the “acid test” – tracking the promised funding to the frontline
So how do we keep our spirits up during this summer of tricky news stories and plough on with our plans? We all know that getting the workforce right is key to implementing the transformation plans so I was pleased to see some positive coverage last week in the form of the publication of the long awaited workforce strategy, outlining a plan to sustain the mental health workforce over the next few years.
In launching it, the health secretary called for an end to the “historic imbalance between mental and physical health services” and outlined an aim to recruit enough nurses, therapists and consultants to treat an extra one million patients by 2020-21.
In the Mental Health Network we welcomed the announcement, which we have been following closely during its development. The HEE strategy is definitely a step in the right direction but we are clear that robust guidance is now required to assist services with the implementation. We also need a plan that goes beyond the next five to 10 years and of course sustainable funding to see it through.
In September we will be publishing our own report, looking at the future of the workforce. This is a culmination of a two year project undertaken in conjunction with Centre for Mental Health and supported by NHS Employers and HEE. It has involved interviews and focus groups with service users, carers and a wide range of mental health professionals including nurses, psychiatrists and voluntary sector workers too.
It has been invaluable to gather insights from people on the frontline, allowing us to develop a set of recommendations that not only build on the HEE plan but that are also based on views from those at the heart of service delivery.
It’s been a tough August of headlines for our sector, exposing where our weaknesses still remain. However, as we see out the last few weeks of summer and reflect on the things that have gone wrong it is important that we don’t lose faith.
We must continue to hold the government to account on what my predecessor Stephen Dalton called, the “acid test” – tracking the promised funding to the frontline.
We must ensure the workforce plan is properly implemented and we must also take stock of the positive progress we’ve made so far, continuing to focus on how we can work to achieve the targets in our five year plan. Most importantly we must continue to learn from each other and the examples of good practice in place up and down the country.