Annual General Meeting
It was great to see so many people at this week’s annual general meeting at Aintree Racecourse. I’ve been to other NHS AGM’s in the past and they are reminiscent of a Clint Eastwood film with tumbleweed bouncing across a nearly empty room. By contrast, our meeting this week was full of people and there was plenty of energy in the room and enthusiasm for more information about our services.
It’s a great tribute to those that attend that they show such a profound and enduring interest in a public service organisation because each year I see familiar faces that are great friends of the Trust. They are exactly the sort of friends we need because they aren’t afraid of telling me when things are not working and we’re grateful for that relationship. I was also delighted to see so many staff at the event because the AGM is effectively the Board’s opportunity to celebrate what our staff achieve and deliver during the course of the year.
We produced a video that showcased the great variety of services we now provide under the Mersey Care umbrella, which you can view here . Mersey Care is a changing organisation. In fact if you look at the variety and depth of our services now compared to what we offered a few years ago it’s mind boggling – we really do provide services from head to toe and from cradle to grave.
We’re a much bigger organisation than we used to be and a much more stable organisation as the slide below illustrates, particularly the piggy on the top right hand side that underlines our turnover. In an NHS that is under strain to be financially stable, that increase in turnover gives us freedom, which is important to the services we provide and gives stability to our staff as a major employer in Cheshire and Merseyside.
We know the most profoundly important things we can do to tackle mental health is to provide stable employment and as an organisation that provides jobs, we are helping to prevent mental illness just by doing that. It’s not a case of us getting bigger for the sake of it, the real meaning is that we become an anchor point in the communities by keeping them stable.
Over the many years of the AGM, people have said to me that we need to do more integration, but if you look at what we provide now – we’ve got mental health, physical health, learning disabilities, we’ve got addiction services and we’re moving closer to better relationships with social care colleagues. People have talked about the need to treat the whole person and one of the things we’ve been doing over the last seven years is to move progressively towards that. The reason we need to do that is that if you look at our operating environment we work in an extremely challenging part of the country which exhibits some of the highest health inequalities anywhere in England and we know by treating the whole person we can address that.
I also provided an update on our Estates strategy and the improvements we are planning, which in some cases were well overdue. The opening on Life Rooms Bootle earlier this year was also a signal that we are moving away from just being a provider of services for adults to younger people and children as well.
In all we’ve spent around £200 million over the last seven years on capital developments, which is the equivalent of building a district general hospital. We still have plenty to do with our estate and some of our work is ongoing, but we are committed to providing the best environment for recovery in all our services.
I also told the AGM that we’re taking on 20 nursing associates each year for the next three years, who will be trained in mental and physical health care – all in the one person. They will have the skills to talk about everything from depression to COPD with anyone they come across in the course of their career. Think how medically different that will be both for us providing services and for the people receiving care who can receive care in just about everything from the same person.
That is part of a strategic recruitment programme and we are well on course now to making our services well, effectively and appropriately staffed. Our nurse vacancy level stands at 3.96 per cent, which is the lowest it’s been in history – never before in Mersey Care’s existence have we had so few nurse vacancies which is a tremendous achievement.
We’ve also made significant strides towards providing a safer service for all (see slide above) and, as you can see, these are all parts of our work that have made progress over the last 12 months. We want these numbers to continue to improve and we should rightly be judged on them.
There have also made some significant steps in the developments of the Life Rooms model by openly acknowledging that the social context that people live in is highly influential in either worsening mental illness or protecting people from lapsing into mental health difficulties.
Without the Life Rooms we would potentially be giving people very few choices and I think it’s really important in mental health to provide options for people. The only solution shouldn’t be medication. For some people it’s completely right and appropriate but people also need to be able to choose an element of psychology and social interventions of the types we have in the Life Rooms.
We now have 107 different voluntary sector organisations in our three Life Rooms venues and I think most of them might struggle to succeed and do the work they do in the current climate of austerity without their partnerships with the Life Rooms. Connecting them through the Life Rooms gives massive opportunities for patients to be able to choose to do different things.
Through research we know that people who are involved with all the different types of Life Rooms activities have a much better experience than those who don’t. It’s crucial that people don’t regard the Life Rooms as an interesting little addition to the services we provide because it’s crucial part in the services and activities we offer within Mersey Care.
I was particularly encouraged by the feedback from the audience at the AGM, all of whom were highly complementary about the work the Life Rooms does in the different communities. There are plans to spread the Life Rooms model to other areas of Liverpool and Merseyside and I’ll update you once I have more news on that.
Talking of the Life Rooms, I was delighted to hear they had won the Regional Award for the North West in the Excellence in Mental Health Category for the NHS Parliamentary Awards. They will now be invited to the Houses of Parliament for the awards finalists’ event on 10 July where they have a chance of winning the national award in that category.
For those that missed it, Michael Crilly, Our Director of Social Inclusion and Public Participation, was interviewed by Mick Coyle on Radio City Talk this week about the Life Rooms and their award. Michael’s interview can be heard here and starts at 00:30.