Being invited to conferences, I like to make sure that I:

1. Understand the topic,

2. Have an interest in the topic, and

3. It will be relevant to readers.

When friends and family were asking what the event was about, I simplified it (not to sound patronising or condescending) with ‘talking about how working together can result in less restraints and forced medications and things(!).’ Number one? Check!

Co-production is the buzz word of the mental health industry right now; professionals are all promoting working alongside service users to create; a better experience of services, a safer environment, and a better understanding.  My personal experience of mental health services (as a whole) has been that staff would tell service users the rules and there were ‘punishments’ when they weren’t 100% adhered to. As my mental health improved, I began to see that what would be easier, is to work together; there could be no understanding without equality. Number two? Check!

The conference was centred around mental health. Number three? Check!

It was an early start - as most events/conferences are – but refreshments in the registration room and Rafik(Raf) Hamaizia’s cheerful, and positive Welcome speech seemed to have everyone eager for the day ahead!

Raf Hamaizia, Expert By Experience for Cygnet Healthcare, chaired the entire event and gave his own insight after each presentation from his personal experiences of mental health services and crisis. Until lunchtime, he was joined by Doctor Geraldine Strathdee OBE, the National Clinical Director for Mental Health, NHS England; who just so happened to also, give the first talk. Dr Strathdee ‘set the scene’ for the conference by discussing an overview of the current challenges and opportunities in mental health. I particularly picked up on her piece about the statistics surrounding adverse childhood experiences e.g. sexual, physical, and emotional abuse etc being linked to those suffering from a mental health illness in later life.

After Dr Strathdee’s promotion of the NHS Choices website (the Mental Health part in particular) we heard from Rosayln Mloyi, and Nick Horne; both Reducing Restrictive Practice Leads at Cygnet Healthcare. Rosayln and Nick provided context on the current national progress in restrictive practice, and talked about the impact the Winterbourne Review had on this.

The next talk was one I’d been greatly looking forward to since spotting it on the agenda; a fellow Expert By Experience, Iris Benson, MBE, spoke about her own experiences of restrictive practice and discussed why reducing such practice is so important and the impact it will have on service users. Iris talked, openly, and emotionally, about being in a mental health crisis and finding herself curled up in the corner of a room, reverted to a childlike state as a result of her difficult childhood, and how unhelpful it had been to have staff 'go hands on.' She talked about how, in that moment, it was the worst thing a person could do to her, and how being aware that this was the case, would have stopped both her, and the staff, from going through such a dramatic restraint. When Iris finished I had tears rolling down my cheeks!
I hear it a lot when I speak at events – that hearing from a service – or ex- service user, is usually the most powerful and interesting presentations, but I’d never experienced it as a member of the audience before.

After a refreshment break, I found that I was sitting on the table with all of the speakers on, and so it was nice to hear Geoff (but I insisted on calling him Geoffrey!) Brennan get up and talk more about the ‘Star Wards’ programme that he’d briefly chatted to me about. Geoff talked about the benefits of getting involved in ‘Star Wards,’ the criteria that must be met to be awarded the title, and he also, read a few statements from previous winners about how rewarding, and important it felt to be named a ‘Star Ward.’ Geoff described the programme as ‘harnessing staff’s creativity and skills to make changes to their particular circumstances and patients.’ It was brilliant to hear that the Cygnet hospital I’d once been a patient of (Cygnet Bierley) had two wards awarded the ‘Full Monty Award’ for meeting all 75 of the ideas and suggested changes that Star Wards promote for any Ward wanting to participate.

For the next half an hour, Raf, Julie Kerry, Director of Nursing and Patient Experience for Cygnet Healthcare, Nick Horne, and Wayne Saville, Independent Expert By Experience; took over the stage. With a presentation on defining ‘co-production’ and discussing how it can reduce restrictive practice, the team were able to provide a practical example, using ‘Safe Wards’ – not to be confused with Star Wards… Although they do support one another!

After lunch, we gathered back in the conference room for an hour long discussion on ‘Real Life Examples of Co-Production.’ We heard from Occupational Therapy staff; Neil Voakes, Lead Occupational Therapist and Andy Clements, Involvement and Recovery College Lead, at Cygnet Hospital Bierley; as well as an ex-service user from the same Hospital. The three, as well as Patrick Bannon, Multi Media Tutor at Cygnet Hospital Bierley; put together a three-piece video on co-production in inpatient services. After their presentation, when they asked if there were any questions, I told the audience how when I’d been an inpatient at Bierley the Occupational Therapy department were probably the most disliked in the entire Hospital. Timetables of groups were seen as a punishment and it seemed like OT staff were ‘banging their head against a brick wall’ in their battle to convince service users otherwise. So it was great to see such creative and positive work from them! And I thought that everyone at the event should know because for them, they could just see the excellent work Bierley are doing, they had nothing to compare it to so as to properly appreciate the work.

Finally! We hear from Doctor Broadie Paterson, a registered mental health and learning disability nurse with a background in challenging behaviours and degrees in Psychology, Education, and Social Policy. He discussed the importance of co-produced de-briefs following the use of Restrictive Practice and talked about how perhaps it wasn’t just necessary for the staff involved, but also for the service user and for other service users who may have witnessed the practice or been affected by it in some way.

I think that this event was perhaps one of my favourites. It’s always great to travel to London and to work with Cygnet Healthcare; I feel like they take such good care of me (I don’t want to speak on behalf of others) and fully appreciate the work I do. The event was interesting, very understandable, and full of lovely, friendly, supportive people.

I hope that everyone in attendance like this post! (Especially since it’s taken a lot of hard work to put together after losing all of my notes from the event!)

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