Mental health has never commanded the same public attention and media interest as physical health, the reasons for this we can debate at length. But this lack of profile means that we who work in the sector, and consequently those we try to help, feel our voice is drowned out by flashing blue lights, hi-tech operating theatres and ‘reality’ TV shows; although the needs of our patients are just as real and just as desperate, and our work is just as life-saving.
So when the Connecting programme was launched we saw it as a golden opportunity to tell our story directly to people that matter, face to face, and to show them real issues, real problems and real solutions. We jumped in and were the first mental health Trust to sign up and have not looked back. But as our involvement has developed, so our thinking about the scheme has evolved. People should not go away with the idea that this is us, on the ‘front line’, moaning to Whitehall officials about how life really is; nor that it is a sanitised ‘tour’ for a few DH brass with them spending all their time with Board members and senior managers. When the DH officials come to us they see everything, they are out in the wards, out in the community, out on the streets; seeing what is really happening, speaking to all our staff. And it is not just a quick look round – they are with us for up to five days. True, there are limits to what anyone can see in five days, but during that time we all talk to each other, we all listen to each other and we all learn from each other.
The feedback from both our own and the DH staff has been universally positive.
DH staff have said things such as: ’It was an amazing experience; we’ll be in touch’; ’We need to be keeping up this link between mental health and the policy team’; ’The main thing I am taking back is parity of esteem’, ‘I cannot praise the quality and efficiency enough and the sheer volume of work and the great standard of care and attitude of staff.’
And from our own people; ‘It’s nice to know that people are really interested in what we do’, ‘It was good to focus on the positive aspects of our work, not just what’s not working. In the current climate that’s refreshing.’
In today’s performance driven culture people will be looking to judge Connecting by hard outcomes and measurable changes. Well, we have some of those. From the Trust we have improved the process for shadowing at the front line; we are using input from our discussions to develop the new NEP strategy and we have gained confidence and are entering our services into more awards and seeking more PR opportunities.
But there are softer benefits that cannot be put on a graph or generate numbers that produce an eye catching headline. And it is here that Connecting is making the real change. The programme is supporting the move to a more transparent culture in which there is mutual understanding and mutual respect. Just simply to be able exchange views with people who know and understand policy, to be able to speak to someone at the DH and know who they are and that they know you. These soft issues change the complete dynamic of relationships, for the better! Contacts made on the visits are being followed-up, conversations are continuing, more meetings and discussions are being arranged and even Ministers are visiting!
We are leading discussions with many other front line partners, NHS and third and even private sector, in developing integrated services that meet the whole needs of the people we serve. And we are linking up and encouraging our partners to join in Connecting. Dare we say that, at the same time as services are working more closely, policy and front line are also becoming more integrated, are just better connected.