North East together (NEt), a regional network for people with lived experience of mental health conditions, has been running ‘A Weight off Your Mind’, a project to support people in secondary services manage their weight.
NEt Secreatry Mish Lorraine reports on how focus groups led to drafting a plan which results from true service user involvement.

Ever since our official launch as a regional network North East together has enjoyed strong partnership working across the North East of England. Amongst two of our strongest working relationships are with The Clinical Network and Senate and Public Health England.

Much of our work with these two organisations has been around the focus of ‘parity of esteem’ addressing the fact that on average people with a mental health diagnosis die up to twenty years earlier than the rest of the population.

We’ve been working with organisations across the region to try and address this health inequality; firstly, we’ve looked at ways to encourage people to stop smoking and carried out engagement with our members and the wider service user community about plans to make the local hospitals/psychiatric units ‘smoke free’. During this work NEt representatives made the point that a greater issue for mental health service users was managing their weight, especially when taking certain medications. This then led to the creation of a Regional Plan to encourage and support users of secondary mental health or learning disability services to manage their weight.

From the onset of this piece of work service user and carer involvement has been truly meaningful. Our Chair and Secretary were members of the steering group overseeing the work, and we were asked to hold initial focus groups with local service users and carers. Once the groups had been held the feedback given was viewed as very important and went on to inform the first draft of the plan.

There was then a Regional Event at The Stadium of Light designed to engage all stakeholders with the work, the event was chaired by the then Chair of North East together; Catherine Haigh and there was a presentation on service user feedback by our Secretary, Mish Loraine, the event was a great success with the icing on the cake being that a member of North East together came up with a name for the plan ‘A Weight off Your Mind’.

NEt followed this up by holding a further two focus groups in August 2017 in Newcastle and Middlesbrough respectively which again provided good feedback on the first draft of the plan, particularly around language and how best to empower service users.

This led to the launch of the plan being put on hold and the plan being rewritten to be more inclusive.

The plan is now a living document and NEt have been tasked this year to carry out further engagement and so far, we’ve organised and co-facilitated three further Focus groups in Newcastle, Durham and Darlington. The groups created some case studies of users of mental health and learning disabilities services and what issues might be barriers to them losing weight, we then identified key themes and looked at what sort of support might be needed.

The latest news is we may be running further consultation in the autumn but at present this is to be confirmed.

From NEt’s point of view the consultation process has been rewarding and meaningful and I think our members involved would second that. I would like to thank Public Health England, The Clinical Network and Senate and all the other stakeholders of the A Weight off Your Mind steering group for acting in the spirit of true service user involvement. North East together look forward to the next stage of implementing the A Weight off Your Mind plan.