Mental health service users in North East Hampshire and Farnham literally have a seat at the table when it comes to improving local services.
People who use mental health services, or have previously done so, regularly meet with NHS commissioners, service providers and other organisations for face-to-face talks, under the name United Communities.
The programme was set up after patient champion Healthwatch Hampshire was asked by NHS North East Hampshire and Farnham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to find out local service users’ views on improving what was available.
The group meets regularly, pooling its combined knowledge and experience and looking at ways to improve services, working with existing NHS and community resources, and exploring whether other organisations might be able to be involved.
The CCG, which plans and funds the majority of health services provided to more than 235,000 people registered at the area’s 21 GP practices, is continually looking at ways to work more closely with local people.
Dr Oliver Sweeney, acting Clinical Lead for Mental and Learning Disabilities for the CCG, said: “We already work with local people and patients a lot, with some fantastic results, yet the results of Healthwatch’s work showed that for people with experience of local mental health services, there was an opportunity and a desire for more direct involvement.
“There’s a lot to be said for speaking to someone face-to-face on a regular basis because it allows you to build a relationship and a level of trust, and to develop friendships and contacts, in a way that is difficult to replicate by other means.”
United Communities not only involves service users, they also helped design the way it works.
Fi Biggs, of Healthwatch Hampshire, said: “United Communities has evolved into an important feature of the local community as we’ve reached out and listened to what people needed. Local people sat down with us to design this way forward, shaping mental health support together to ensure the opportunity to hold open and honest conversations.
“Even the name itself was created by someone who accessed mental health services. It’s about giving people a voice. This way forward empowers the local community to speak up, get involved and work as one team.”