The mental health radio programme (Mentally Sound) set up by Mental Health North East (MHNE) and volunteers, asked me to go along to their interview they'd be recording with John Lawlor, the Chief Executive of Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust; the mental health care provider for the North East of England.
John, was immediately lovely and friendly and we began the interview talking about his personal experience of ill mental health, which he says he is always very open about his experience with depression "...fortunately it goes away a bit and then comes with great vengeance and I do experience suicidal thoughts."
We discussed a lot about the need for equality between mental health issues and physical issues; he suggested that this begin with ensuring the mental health inpatients have their physical health care as the same priority that it would be were they in the community. John also highlighted the difficulty in people being comfortable to talk about mental ill health with the same comfort as physical health "people are very open about hip surgery..."
When discussing that some service users do have bad experiences of the services in the North East, John said he would encourage complaints and comments via 'Points of View' etc and how they always strive to improve upon areas. "Move from good, to better, to best. If we're doing something 'good' that's not good enough... Always a desire to strive to be the best."
The question was raised as to how NTW co-operate with their Southern counterpart; TEWV and John referred to Eating Disorder services as an example in that services further South are a lot more experienced in ED and more specialised than those in our region. At this point, I questioned whether he thought it was acceptable to admit our services aren't as good and that it results in service users being admitted far from home. He explained that it's more practical to have one area that offers amazing service to a few different services that aren't as good and prevent a quicker recovery.
John said that the improvements in services which he was most proud of was involving service users and carers in Sunderland to design services that they use. He also said that providing specialised services was another service improvement and he talked of how they're one of two organisations in the country to specialise in female medium secure units.
When questioned about areas that could be improved; "everything! Because you should never be satisfied." John discussed the 'Street Triage' system in which psychiatric staff work alongside police and paramedics in deciding the best means of treatment for an individual, in order to reduce the frequency of times when those with ill mental health are sitting in A&E or a custody cell for hours. The result of this, he hopes, will avoid service users becoming so poorly that hospitalization is required and their recovery takes even longer. Other improvements continue to be focused on waiting times, especially within child and adolescent services and with co-operation with GP's to make them better aware of the variety of services available. John pointed out that for the first time since the NHS, there has now been national standards released as there has - for many years, always been some for physical health.
When asked about cuts, John expressed more concern over the cuts to education, local authorities (councils) and social care. He reasoned that this is because if someone needed an operation on cataracts then they'd come into hospital, probably be discharged the same day and perhaps have one follow-up. Whereas the service users NTW deal with, need longer support. He voiced that if the current pattern of spending continues, his concern would be for those with more complex needs, such as service users who are so distressed that they require two staff with them twenty four hours a day. These people, are the minority, however their needs take up more funds although, they're entitled to the same service as those who require less.
What would your ideal holistic mental health service look like?
Well, that's sort of quite easy to say but quite hard to do! I would say that every single person should feel that they're being looked at as a whole person, and we're not saying somebody walks in the door and 'that's a schizophrenic person'... I think it's quite a big cultural challenge for the NHS to make sure that we're looking at the whole person and as I say that's easily said. Nobody intends not to do that, but people are almost trained to say 'let's quickly get to a diagnosis'...
To view our entire interview with John: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FISGW3-Q94