In Mind: A guest blog from Irene Byrne-Watts, Directorof Community Services for Learning Disabilities

Hello, my name is Irene and I am the Director of Community Services for Learning Disabilities.

Over the summer, Joe has asked for colleagues to present a “guest blog” to describe some of our wider activities across Mersey Care. I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you about the work we do in my team here in Whalley to support the roll out of the national Transforming Care agenda and to develop new community services.

I have worked at Mersey Care since April 1987! I trained as a Learning Disability Nurse (a very long time ago) in Ireland. I did general nurse training in the UK after a brief stay working in New York. My heart remained in learning disability nursing and I returned to that field in 1987. I have had various clinical and managerial roles ever since. For the last few years, with colleagues, I’ve been leading a major change in how Mersey Care delivers services for people with a learning disability (LD) within our communities.

My current role is the Director of Community Services for learning disabilities and I’m mainly based in Whalley in Lancashire. Many of you will know that Mersey Care Whalley, formerly the headquarters of the Calderstones Trust, is a specialist LD hospital, supporting people with LD and forensic needs in secure medium, low and step down settings. Many here have additional complex needs. They require skilled therapeutic interventions to support their well-being and recovery as well as to prepare them to live safely in the local community surrounded by family and friends, with input from skilled professionals when this is required.

National plan and policies like Transforming Care and Building the Right Support have rightly set out a vision that LD services should where possible be configured around local communities, with strengthened support closer to home and a reduction on the reliance of hospital beds.

This is where Mersey Care comes in. To deliver this, over the last two years we’ve worked especially closely with commissioners, other providers (both statutory and non-statutory), countless others and, crucially, service users themselves to translate policy into practice in a way that is inclusive and meaningful to the people we support. There’s great work already out there but we’ve identified gaps in provision. So we have developed and set up new specialist support teams (SST) across Greater Manchester and Lancashire to assist existing teams and services.

I am really pleased with our progress despite the complexity of the task. Our teams are multidisciplinary in nature and I am absolutely delighted that we have been able to successfully appoint to approximately 70 posts across both areas. We have been fortunate to bring in some fantastic staff both from our own inpatient services and from other community areas which will unite the very best of clinical expertise and person centred care.

The Greater Manchester team will soon be moving to their new base in Eccles. Lancashire’s team have their base on the Whalley site. Our focus is on system change to create better lives for the people we support. Our newly established teams will work alongside existing services, preventing admissions, facilitating discharges, providing advice, training, consultancy and therapeutic interventions, as well as offering an enhanced and out of hours service.

Transforming Care and Building the Right Support are ambitious. They require system wide change and Mersey Care is, and will continue to be, pivotal to this. It’s a challenging time for all stakeholders involved, not least the people working in our Specialist LD Division, as the focus moves from bed based services to one of community. However, we have highly skilled and experienced staff who are passionate about getting it right for the people they support. I’m confident of their abilities and skills working alongside colleagues in the wider system to deliver our new model of care.

As Director of Community Services, I am committed to seeing this work come to fruition across our Trust’s area.

Thank you.


Irene Byrne-Watts