An invitation to lunch

The Health and Care Innovation Expo 2019 took place in Manchester in early September. This annual event describes itself as bringing together leaders from across health, social care, local government and industry and is the biggest NHS-led event of the year.

During the first day of the Expo, Claire Murdoch, National Director for Mental Health, NHS England and NHS Improvement, and Chief Executive of Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, hosted an exclusive invitation only Stakeholder Lunch. NSUN were invited to have a seat around the table to discuss the NHS’ objectives and deliverables for mental health over the next five years, and how we can jointly deliver world-class mental health care for everybody who needs it in England.

As a Northerner, it’s always refreshing to be at events that take place outside of London. As an Associate with NSUN, and somebody who has personal experience of mental distress, it was an important opportunity to not only hear about the NHS Long Term Plan and some work taking place in the region, but to contribute to the conversation from NSUN’s perspective.

Claire Murdoch started the session with the welcome news of a new ring fenced local investment mental health budget of at least £2.3 billion per year. We heard about new counselling services going live the following week so that more and more children and young people experiencing distress can be supported. We also heard about an increasing focus on supporting some of the most vulnerable people during their most distressing times, including those who are homeless.

Louise Edwards, Director of Strategy at Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, went on to tell us about how the Trust are facing an increasing number of people with increasing mental health needs. Whilst many of Mersey Care’s services have been through significant positive transformation over the past 5 – 6 years, this has not yet impacted all services. Community mental health teams need a radical overhaul as their current model is simply not sustainable – they can’t afford to run it, staff it and it doesn’t work well enough for those that need it. It was great to hear that this is firmly on their agenda for the future.

However, for me, the highlight of the lunch was when we heard from 42nd Street. This is an award-winning Greater Manchester based voluntary sector organisation that supports young people with their emotional wellbeing and mental health. Simone Spray, Chief Executive, was joined by two young women who had both used the service themselves before going on to work there.

They told us that on average it takes 10 years for a child or young person to get a support service, and many don’t get any support whatsoever. They told us about the massive increase in demand for their services over the past 5 years. It was great to hear that rather than just putting people on a waiting list, they use this as an opportunity to engage with young people and begin to build a relationship. This sounded like a different, more helpful, more humane and more successful kind of waiting list. They also told us about how they actively involve young people in their services. The two young women who shared their experiences of distress, the support they received and the difference this made to their lives captured everybody’s attention. I won’t be able to do them justice here, but I can almost guarantee that it was their words that everybody went away thinking about the most.  

The lunch was rounded up with an invitation to ask questions based on what you’d heard, and the points you’d like to make. I took this opportunity to talk out the value of lived experience and how that when this is sought, listened to and acted on, it really does make for a better service that more people benefit from. However, with the increasing loss of service user led organisations across the country this is becoming more and more difficult. The independent voice of service users is facing many challenges within the sector at the moment, and in some areas it has simply disappeared due to the withdrawal of essential funding. Within the service user movement, we know that this is a critical issue. We need more people to know it, understand it and then do something about it. Without an independent service user voice statutory, voluntary and private sector mental health organisations will never be able to provide good enough services that we all deserve and have the right to access when we need to. It was disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, to notice that there was no mention of how even the smallest portion of the £2.3 billion could be used to support service user mental health led groups to lead the way.

I went away from the lunch with mixed feelings – hopeful about what the future might look like and the changes this will bring to millions of people; inspired by those with lived experience who locally make a big difference; apprehensive about the value that is placed on lived experience and service user leadership within the NHS Long Term Plan.

Angela Newton, September 2019


Find out what else happened at the NHS Expo here.