Bradford & District Disabled People’s Forum (BDPF) Press Release:
‘Improving Mental Health in your Community’ (pdf) is a new handbook published by National Survivor User Network (NSUN) Mental Healthwatch, which is designed to help local communities improve mental health together.
Like the rest of the Health and Social Care Act changes, Healthwatch has just celebrated its first birthday.
NSUN has worked with a lot of the new local ‘consumer’ champions and found great enthusiasm, dedication and ambition.
Healthwatch have chosen to prioritise mental health, though this reflects the neglect of the sector with only a quarter of people with a psychological condition get any treatment at all.
Of that quarter 78% have told NSUN that mental health services in their area have got worse over the last 12 months.
So far the rhetoric of ‘parity of esteem’ between mental and physical health services has remained just that but we all know have that services are far better when people with lived experience are supported to get properly involved shaping support.
Where service users are integral to commissioning, providing and checking services their own recovery is strengthened and the service they are involved with gets better too.
With their statutory powers, influence and connections with commissioners, providers and communities Healthwatch is ideally placed to take this agenda forward.
As a result NSUN created the Mental Healthwatch scheme to recruit people with lived experience to get involved with their local Healthwatch and to support proper representation and service improvement.
NSUN Mental Healthwatch is supported by Department of Health minister Norman Lamb and Healthwatch England and so far more than 150 individuals and more than 50, one third of the total, local Healthwatch have joined the scheme.
Those who joined told NSUN Mental Healthwatch that they needed more information on how to improve mental health in their area and so the publication of the NSUN Mental Healthwatch handbook which is full of guidance on working with service users, government, commissioners, providers, councils and the voluntary sector.
The handbook includes advice on conducting ‘enter and view’ visits to mental health services, effectively involving people with experience of mental health conditions and commissioning health services with local communities.
It also contains the results of our exclusive surveys of the views and experience of local Healthwatch and mental health service users.
Whilst there is good news, like the fact that 72% of local Healthwatch have done particular work to involve people with mental health conditions, there are also some causes for concern.
Nearly half (49%) of all local Healthwatch say they do not have the resources they need to do the job expected of them with 79% of that group blaming the government and 21% their local authority commissioners.
Although some allowance has to be made for the fact that this is only the first year of operation it is worrying that only 16% of local Healthwatch have conducted an ‘enter and view’ visit to a mental health service.
One Healthwatch respondent said they needed ‘greater resources and specialised staffing’ and another said it needed ‘the resources to do more outreach work.’
The fact that such a large number of Healthwatch feel unable to do the job expected of them and have not visited psychiatric services is worrying as the reports into the Mid Staffordshire and Winterbourne View (pdf) scandals, where patients and residents were neglected and abused, called for thorough public oversight.
Work also needs to be done in improving the experience of mental health service users in their dealings with Healthwatch itself with less than one third (31%) saying being involved in Healthwatch had been a positive experience for them.
Healthwatch England board member Patrick Vernon OBE writes in the foreword that ‘there still remains much work to do to ensure there is parity of esteem and greater inclusion and equality in the delivery of mental health services.’
There is indeed a lot of work to be done with mental ill health costing an estimated £105 billion every year in England alone.
Together we can improve mental health in our communities but only by investing in prevention and by tapping into expertise of those with lived experience.
Healthwatch is in a great position to help in those objectives and NSUN Mental Healthwatch hope this guide supports them to turn rhetoric into reality.
Cath Stevenson (Chair) & Emmerson Walgrove (Deputy Chair)
Bradford & District Disabled People’s Forum (BDPF)