In Mind: Chief Executive Joe Rafferty writes about the third ZSA conference and Holocaust Memorial Day in his latest blog.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today I wanted to share with you some reflections from a profoundly moving event I attended just this morning. Holocaust Memorial Day is marked every 27 January and on this day we’re invited to remember the many millions of people who died during the Holocaust and as a result of numerous genocides that have taken place throughout history. This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and I was proud to join our Chairman, Beatrice Fraenkel, for a memorial event held at The Walton Centre.

The occasion marked a particularly personal story for our Chairman. Beatrice’s mother, as a young Jewish teenager, was amongst countless people who came to Britain seeking refuge and safety from the Holocaust. She arrived without family, unable to speak English, and without known connection to anyone in this country. She was literally alone and without a home until she and a number of other Jewish people were given a place to stay by a married Christian couple called Geoffrey and Gertrude Jefferson. Geoffrey was a pioneering neurosurgeon and Gertrude a psychiatrist. The Jefferson’s provided several people with home and welcome until such time as they were able to connect and settle with relatives and friends.

Pictured (left to right): Andrew Lynch, Equality and Inclusion Lead at the Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust, Michael Crilly, Director of Social Inclusion and Participation at Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, Joe Rafferty, Chief Executive at Mersey Care, Beatrice Fraenkel, Chairman of Mersey Care, Jane Shearer, Sir and Lady Jefferson’s granddaughter, Janet Rosser, Chairman of the Walton Centre, Jan Ross, Director of Operations and Strategy at the Walton Centre and Michael Fraenkel, husband of Beatrice.

Sir Geoffrey Jefferson (as he became) went on to be one of the country’s foremost neurosurgeons whose work was ultimately instrumental in giving birth to our present day Walton Centre and one of their specialist wards is named in his honour. Given Lady Jefferson’s work in the field of mental health I find it particularly striking that Beatrice should one day become the Chairman of a mental health organisation.

This story is a wonderful illustration of how the true nature of human generosity and compassion will always shine through in any time of darkness. At a time when labels of race and faith created the most dangerous of cultures, the Jeffersons and many others looked beyond the bond which binds us all – our humanity.

The theme of Holocaust Memorial Day 2020 is ‘Stand Together’. This is exactly what the Jeffersons chose to do for Beatrice’s mother. They did not simply use words but rather stood with her and indeed several others, who faced similar loss and separation. Today the Chairs and Chief Executives of both The Walton Centre and Mersey Care stood together to honour the Jeffersons through the unveiling of a memorial plaque.

I know many people across both organisations also chose to stand together at 11am to remember those who died in the Holocaust. At Mersey Care, our Whalley site, where refugees from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s were welcomed and supported on some of the old wards, hosted an event at St Luke’s. In so doing we made a profoundly relevant statement about our own present day situation and the need to stand together in our common humanity.

For many people society can be experienced as a polarised and stigmatising place. Discrimination and hate can still rise up in many forms and in our organisation we choose to go beyond mere words and seek to create care and culture that are rooted in the simple fact that we are all human beings and as such precious. We stand side by side so as to make a reality the dignity of each person.

On the plaque unveiled today at The Walton Centre you can read a Jewish proverb: ‘A little bit of light pushes away a lot of darkness’. By choosing to bring light and compassion to the darkest of situations we can make a real difference. I want to thank Beatrice and her family for sharing their story so as to remind us of this fact and I want to thank each of you for bringing so much light to the suffering of those we serve.

Zero Suicide Alliance conference

Last week I attended the Zero Suicide Alliance’s (ZSA) third national conference at the Museum of London Docklands, which this time focussed on artificial intelligence (AI) and digital learning and how it can impact on suicide prevention.

One of the main tasks we were set by the Government when they provided us with funding for the ZSA was to “develop an innovative digital suicide prevention resource” and we were able to demonstrate the progress we have made in this area to delegates through the conference.

The main highlight of the day was the first unveiling of the ‘Go To’ resource, an addition to the existing ZSA website which will bring all resources and information together in one place.

This will allow clinicians, leaders and the public to connect to evidence based opportunities right for their community and understand how their county stacks up for risk factors linked to suicide. We’re aiming to release this new version in a few months ready to support individuals, organisations and leaders to better tackle the challenge of suicide prevention.

Delegates at the conference heard presentations from Rina Dutter, an expert from King’s College London in using data to understand suicide and self-harm. Mersey Care’s Dr Cecil Kullu and Jim Hughes also presented on the development of a safety screening tool, while executive director Amanda Oates demonstrated the strength of our organisation for innovation in culture and technology as a Global Digital Exemplar.

We were also provided with a video message from Nadine Dorries MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety, while the workshops were split into three zones - the Culture, Innovation and Best Practice – which allowed delegates to see tangible examples of how to translate data into solutions for their community.