Chief Executive's Blog: That was the year that was

Making Progress


“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Winston Churchill


In an NHS that is too often characterised by negative coverage, it’s good to take time to remind ourselves of the good stuff here at Mersey Care. That’s not to say that we don’t have our share of issues to improve upon or that I’m unrealistic about our own challenges. While we are much focused to learn from the things that don’t go well, we cannot walk past those service areas that are starting to really show their value to patients, carers and communities. 


For example our high and medium secure services are making real strides is in the reduction of average length of stay for patients. Now that is good news. Not least because for some, there is a belief that few people who enter high secure care ever come out. Our most recent figures suggest otherwise.


Just three years ago, the average length of stay at Ashworth Hospital was 7.1 years; this has now fallen to around 5.6 years, a notable improvement by any standard, even more so when you consider that back in 2002 it was 10.9 years.


It is a similar story with our medium secure services, who have also had a reduction in the average length of stay during the past 12 months. Along with this reduction in length of stay, we have created a very streamlined assessment for admission and discharge system that means patients experience very responsive yet efficient care.


In general, these figures make a very important statement about Mersey Care’s commitment and delivery on a philosophy that is very serious about patients experiencing the least restrictive care environment that is safely possible.


And our No Force First approach then focuses on making that stay in services as safe and as positive an experience as possible. The sort of progress that we are now seeing is only possible because we have developed better pathways and have focused very hard on co-production with patients based on a real intent to make the journey of recovery meaningful to each and every individual. I think it is fair to say that Mersey Care’s secure services are now starting to show, both regionally and nationally, how it is possible to deliver high quality and responsive care in a more efficient way. I look forward to seeing this story go from strength to strength.


In much the same way, we have made great progress with the Local Division and our work in engaging with our CCGs and more particularly with the GPs who refer to Mersey Care is now starting to flourish – again based on that principle of making possible the least restrictive place of care. So we look forward to continuing the very constructive dialogue with local CCGs and GPs that will see more presence from Mersey Care in primary care setting. This will be a tremendous step towards making sure that prevention of ill health, the prevention of admission and a shift to appropriate admission and minimum length of stay becomes a reality.


The Corporate Division also deserves a mention for its hard work – in conjunction with all our other services – in preparation for the CQC inspection and positive reference to them in the subsequent report. While the work of Secure and Local Divisions are on our frontline, the role of Corporate in supporting those clinical services often gets overlooked and plays a vital role in ensuring our services run smoothly. They have adopted a single approach to risk management and introduced a directory of services on the intranet site, so everyone can see what each function does and who to contact.  


All three Divisions play key roles alongside each other and although 2015 has delivered plenty of encouraging news, we should not get complacent in any area and we still have more to do as we move towards 2016 and a step closer to Perfect Care.


A Busy Year


Because of the holidays, this will be my final blog of 2015, so I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what a challenging but rewarding year we have had at Mersey Care. We were delighted to finish our project at Clock View, which became fully operational in March and is a place that is loved by patients and staff for its living space and working environment. It has become a flagship hospital for mental health and been visited by the media – BBC Radio Five based the Adrian Chiles show there earlier this year – and politicians with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Luciana Berger, the Shadow Minister for Mental Health, both visiting. Other notable visitors include Steve Rotheram, the MP for Walton, former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, former Care Minister Norman Lamb and John Pugh, the MP for Southport. We should also mention the local councillors that helped with the Clock View project, particularly Richard McLinden and Ann O’Byrne from Liverpool and Paul Cummins from Sefton.


What is really great about Clock View is that it has become an anti-stigma statement – put simply it is right and proper that those experiencing mental illness should have access to NHS facilities of the highest standard; this should not be the preserve of private providers only! What was also brilliant about the development of the site was the way in which local councillors led with their constituents to breakdown the myths associated with mental health in a way that has definitely made Clock View a valued part of the Walton landscape.


We also launched our Zero Suicide policy in 2015, which began with our Big Brew campaign back in January and wall to wall media coverage of our plans on Brew Monday back in January. I lost count of the number of interviews myself and David Fearnley did that day to explain why we wanted to achieve zero suicide in our care. Since those statements, we have worked hard to formulate a policy. It has proved a difficult problem to penetrate, but we are developing and fine tuning our approach all the time until we are successful. We owe that to the family and friends left behind by a suicide and the impact it often has on those who have cared for the patient. Many bereaved relatives have quietly but firmly indicated their support for what we are trying to achieve – for me they have the most legitimate voice in ensuring we don’t ever step away from this work. I am delighted with the way both Clock View and Zero Suicide have helped increase the media profile of the trust.


This summer was also particularly busy for everyone with the CQC inspection and we were all delighted with our rating of good. That does not mean we should relax and rest on our laurels; indeed, I have been urging you all to continually strive to reach excellence as part of our Perfect Care objectives. Again, this is a reason to be optimistic – not complacent – as it is an excellent achievement to be put in the top 25% of all hospitals inspected and one which we all should be very proud to acknowledge.


We have also made significant strides with our award-wining initiative, ‘No Force First.’ There may be large numbers of the general population that believe we have stolen the slogan for the new Star Wars movie, but the importance of our commitment to it cannot be over-stated. Initially piloted over four wards, we believe it could make significant financial savings for the trust when it is expanded across all our services by March, while also increasing staff morale and the patient experience. Importantly, it should not be regarded as a target any more for us, but the way we do things in Mersey Care.



Looking Ahead


Just as last year had a number of major challenges and successes, we have similar ambitions to make 2016 a special 12 months. High on our agenda for the New Year is our ambition to become a foundation trust, which we hope to achieve in April. There are many benefits to being a foundation trust, not least that it builds a sense of social enterprise and encourages us to develop our services, in line with the needs of the communities we serve, and to improve on our already high standards.


Becoming a foundation trust is a key component of our ambition to acquire Calderstones Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, as part of NHS England’s policy direction for learning disabilities and our conversations are ongoing.


Mersey Care is also committed to a physical health programme and, to help in that, I am delighted Dr Feelwell has now been launched. The result of two years of work and shaped by patients and staff, Dr Feelwell is a virtual doctor that will deliver the key messages of health promotion.


Finally, we have also launched the new Learning and Development Prospectus, which should help our staff, many of whom share a passion for making a difference to the lives of the people who depend on our services, achieve their objectives. Through this new prospectus, staff can learn new skills, grow and share their knowledge.


Our core purpose is to support people and maximise their potential. We know our staff are a valuable asset and as such, we place considerable emphasis on their development and endeavour to provide high quality education and training.


Tis the Season


I know many of you will either be on the verge of finishing for the Christmas period or scurrying around making last minute preparations to spend quality time with friends and family. Those of us who enjoy getting together with our loved ones, though, should spare a thought at this time of year for those who cannot do the same.


Many of your friends and colleagues may well be working over the festive period, while we should also think of service users who are inpatients either with ourselves or other services within the NHS. I know our staff will make our inpatients’ stay over Christmas as happy and as comfortable as possible and I can’t thank those staff that are working over this period enough for their hard work and dedication in keeping Mersey Care’s services running to such high standards. Those of you who are having some time off, I hope you are all come back refreshed and ready for an exciting and challenging new year.


To all of you, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing - on behalf of Beatrice myself and the rest of the board - we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.



Joe Rafferty

Chief Executive