Healthwatch West Berkshire Initiative Thinking Together 2017 Provides Vital Voice for Mental Health
As part of an ongoing commitment to focussing on the mental health needs of West Berkshire, and supporting the Brighter Berkshire 2017 Year of Mental Health Campaign, Healthwatch West Berkshire recently held its second ‘Thinking Together’ Event, 18th May 2017 at Thatcham Catholic Hall. An inclusive event designed to bring together everyone involved in mental health in West Berkshire, from users and carers to professionals and commissioners, in order to ensure everyone in the area has their voice heard.
At a time when the state of the nation’s mental health has become a central public health tenet, Healthwatch West Berkshire has been working to ensure that everyone effected by the issue, from those with a wide range of conditions, their carers and families, as well as local charities, not-for-profit organisations and professionals (including West Berkshire Council, Berkshire Healthcare Foundation Trust and Newbury and District Clinical Commissioning Group) are engaging with one another in a non-judgemental, easy to access arena, which allows all those involved to discuss matters in a co-operative atmosphere. The idea of the event was not only to provide networking opportunities for all, but to discuss the various matters (good and bad) that came out of the previous meeting, thus providing a basis for focussed outcomes which could be worked towards. As local MP Richard Benyon said at a previous Health and Well Being Board meeting in March: “You can have all the policies in the world, but if they are not effective they are worthless.”
Following the meeting and subsequent survey, Healthwatch West Berkshire has collated the information gained and created valuable insight into the needs of the community. The ‘Thinking Together’ event has been deemed an enormous success by all stakeholders, offering an inclusive forum for all.
“This was a unique event where many different people and organisations were able to share positive ideas and suggestions about mental health services,” commented Kathryn Dundas, Co-ordinator for the Eight Bells For Mental Health charity. “Thinking Together gave our members the opportunity to have their voices heard, to express both the good and the bad experiences they have had in accessing both professional and voluntary help and support. While West Berkshire is poorly funded for mental health services, we believe that events like this help those in our area to feel they are listened to and taken seriously, which can only assist in boosting their confidence and self-esteem”.
Healthwatch West Berkshire believes that its involvement has ensured that going forward those involved will have a worthwhile space in which they can feel confident they will be listened to, and it hopes more effective community mental health systems will be put into place which will take account of their experiences and thoughts. Indeed, Nick Carter, CEO of West Berkshire Council commented: “I was delighted to be invited to such a well attended event. It was invaluable to get an insight into what users of local mental health services actually feel. There is clearly more to do and I hope I will have the opportunity to return later in the year to outline what we hope to be doing”.
Following the event special guest, Jane Mordue, Chair of Healthwatch England (Based in London), who also attended said: “Well done to Healthwatch West Berkshire for bringing together so many people who really wanted to share ideas on how to improve mental health for everyone in the community. The knowledge and experience in the room made for a great buzz, total truth and some great ideas on how to make people more aware of how to cope with the challenges”.
Going forward, the findings of the meeting and subsequent report and survey will be discussed at the Health and Wellbeing Board ‘Integration Board’, in order to facilitate actions that benefit the community. Andrew Sharp, Chief Officer of Healthwatch West Berkshire commented: “In the first instance I’d like to thank everyone who attended, especially the service users. We truly hope that the success of ‘Thinking Together’ can be carried into the new Health and Wellbeing Board Mental Health Strategy, which will enable us to create a Mental Health Action Group with delegated powers and accountability that West Berkshire so badly needs. Fully supporting Dr. Anees Pari’s [Interim Head of Public Health and Wellbeing West Berkshire] hard-hitting point, we want to create an environment in our locale where the premature death rate for people with severe mental health issues from physical illness can be reduced – and we would like this co-produced, inclusive approach to be used across all health and social care.”