Friday, 27 August 2021

We see you, we hear you

We can look at reports crammed with facts and figures that indicate increasing levels of pressure on staff and services, but nothing replaces seeing and feeling that pressure first hand.

To hear from frontline staff and service managers about the exhaustion, hurdles, challenges and worry they are facing is stark and sobering. It’s so raw and so real.

The strain that most of our services are currently under is abundantly clear. My service visit to Bury earlier this week, to see teams living and breathing these pressures, really hits home hard. I could have gone to any borough, I know it’s the same for all of you.

We may get a lot of information through our governance routes, but numbers can seem somewhat sanitized and, whilst they inform, they don’t have the same impact as hearing directly from people. They are like a photograph rather than a moving film.

So, I take, fairly and squarely on the chin, any criticism that directors haven’t been as visible as we should have been. We have tried, but it obviously hasn’t been good enough and for that we are sorry. 

Hopefully, with the scaling up of the Board’s service visit programme, we will be able to visit more services and hear directly how it has been for you and what we can do in support. 

Certainly, from the visits I have done over the last few months, I want to say loudly and clearly that I hear you, appreciate where you are and know how tremendously hard it is.

We went into this pandemic with historic chronic underfunding and all the difficulties that come with that. And that’s not just our opinion, as the Niche consultancy work clearly showed how bad it was and the huge pressure our workforce was under.

So, after 18 months of a shockingly brutal pandemic which has not only required us to overhaul the entire way that we work, but has added a thick layer of additional pressure on the system, you are of course utterly exhausted. We’ve got increased service demand, waiting lists and backlogs rocketing. 

This weight is pushing us from creaking to buckling in places and we urgently need to do whatever we can to support.

The national narrative for our colleagues in acute hospital services is one of ‘recovery’ with huge efforts going in to tackle bursting A&Es and long waiting lists for surgery and cancer. But, with 1.6 million people currently waiting to access some form of mental health service across the land, we need the same parity of esteem. That 1.6 million includes people waiting for psychological services; to be allocated a care co-ordinator; for CAMHS services, eating disorders and ADHD; and the list goes on...

The case for equal priority is screaming out loudly.

There is thankfully now recognition that the pandemic has had a significant impact on mental health services, with national leads fighting for funding in the Autumn spending review on a par with the acute sector. We actually got to a good position with our local commissioners before the pandemic, helped by the Niche work, but this is about the entire system – nationally, regionally and locally - weighing in with its joint support.

There’s no easy fix I know, as this isn’t just about money. A big fat cheque can’t magic up clinical staff, for example. It’s going to take innovative thinking and effort in a sustained way on these issues. 

So, we are working with service managers to develop stabilisation plans as a matter of urgency to address our most critical areas, while we also work with partners and the wider system to develop longer term plans. There will no doubt be some tough discussions along the way, but we have to have these.

I was very grateful to everyone I met within Bury, when I spent the day there, for being so honest and sharing their experiences of the last 18 months and how it is feeling right now. 

Of course, I heard some immensely worrying things about just how stretched services are at the moment, but I also heard some great stories of achievement by all the teams and came away feeling more hopeful than hopeless, more inspired than helpless.

I appreciated how tired and under pressure everyone was, and will always feel concerned about that, but the leadership and desire to change things by the teams really struck me.

Donna Edgley, one of the managers I chatted with, was keen to strike a balance between the concerns and the positive things the teams are doing. As she said, “We are up for it and motivated, not crying in a bucket”.

I keep thinking about that quote, because as I chatted to staff and patients, some of the achievements were clear. I saw the upgraded Ramsbottom Ward after the eradication of dormitories, looking fabulous and really dementia friendly. There’s outstanding work between our community mental health services and integrated neighbourhood teams, as older adults and access teams work together; and great collaboration between mental health liaison and A&E. 

I heard about some fantastic research projects in psychological therapies and was also invited to the Moving Forward group at our Hope and Horizon unit, so look forward to hearing more about the positive things they are doing.

What struck me most, was that while the challenges are huge, people do have ideas and ways of tackling them. However, there is a level of frustration that it’s not always easy to take these forward, especially in the recruitment and retention of staff. 

While we are limited in our ability to influence the national funding picture or to address national staffing gaps, if there are improvement ideas that are within our gift as an organisation to implement, then we absolutely need to do this. There is surely a lot we can do on recruitment and retention incentives, as well as making the process easier and quicker.

So, I know you are working your socks off. I felt the intensity and the relentless, gruelling pressure you are under. 

You are possibly going through your toughest time of the pandemic, right now. 

We see you, we hear you, and we will do everything we can to support you.

Best wishes,

Claire

You can follow me on Twitter @ClaireMolloy2


Thursday, 29 July 2021

Mountains, medals and mettle

I spent last weekend in the lovely Lake District with my climbing club friends. 

About 70 of us from the Pinnacle Club - the UK’s only rock climbing club for women - gathered in Langdale to celebrate its centenary. There was a fascinating exhibition in Sticklebarn which brought to life the experience and expeditions of the original members after the First World War, many of whom made first female ascents around the world.

Climbing can still have a bit of a macho feel these days, so can you imagine the hurdles, discouragement and prejudice that these fearless women must have faced in 1921. Women were very much a minority in the outdoors one hundred years ago, let alone climbing!

Those early female climbers were true pioneers, all pushing the boundaries with remarkable grit and guts.  The determination and resilience they must have had is inspiring. I was struck by one of the climbers quotes in the compilation film which said, “It did teach me that when you think you’ve reached the end of your endurance, you haven’t.” Given the experience of the last 18 months, we can all take something from that. We may not have had to endure exactly the same challenges as these women did, but in our own ways, we have all had to dig deep into our reserves of energy and resolve just to get through the pandemic.

We still need to show that climbing is not an elitist club for hot shot climbers, and we absolutely need to encourage more diversity as it’s still a very white activity in this country, but we’ve come a long way. A steady climb up but we’re not near the top yet. The diversity gap is not going to magically disappear, but there are lots of initiatives to encourage more ethnic groups to participate. For example, there’s a climbing group in Greater Manchester supporting BAME women called Wanderlust Women. 

And climbing is in the Olympics for first time ever, which is fantastic. 40 climbers from all around the globe will be battling it out across three climbing disciplines of speed, lead and bouldering on the world's most watched wall of the year.

Of course only a few can ever achieve the dizzy heights of Olympians, but if we want to see stories of inspiration, joy, heartbreak, determination, strength of character, disappointment and pride, there is no better source than the Olympics. It’s called the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ for a reason and again, like the Pinnacle Club pioneers, we can be uplifted by it for our own stuff.

Just take Tom Daley for example. His victory has inspired the strongest emotions across the nation since the Olympics started. All the hope, disappointment and despair Tom had endured these past 13 years was cleansed with his wonderful Tokyo gold. His tears on the podium reflected his long march to Olympic glory - and my, how joyous we all were for him.

Life never unfolds smoothly for any of us, and the way in which Tom Daley sealed his victory with his diving partner Matty Lee, with a series of stunning and seemingly nerveless dives, spoke of his resilience and tenacity. His achievement owes much to a remarkable resolve that's also helped overcome struggles away from the pool. 

Yes, I know the pandemic has wreaked havoc on Olympians wellbeing as well as training schedules, and many medal hopes have been dashed because of the strain, but they are still an inspirational story of endurance and hope. The triumphs are proving bigger than the empty stadiums. And after so long in darkness, it’s magical to watch.

They have a set of impressive values - honesty, teamwork, respect, self-belief, passion and fortitude. And show us that, if at first you don’t succeed, you can try again and that passion can take you far if you want something enough.

We can take our own hope and inspiration for our own achievements. And, like Tom Daley, we can dig deep about things we feel strongly about with that determination burning brightly. Our achievements might not be as exceptional as an Olympic gold medal, but they are still mighty.

Best wishes

Claire

You can follow me on Twitter @ClaireMolloy2

Click here for more information about the Pinnacle Club.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Freedom, football and fatigue

It will have not escaped your notice that there have been a number of very positive things happening this week. 

On Monday the Prime Minister provided an overview of the Government’s roadmap to ease all covid restrictions. So called ‘Freedom day’. We also celebrated the NHS 73rd birthday, not a landmark anniversary as such, but an opportunity to pay tribute and say a huge thank you for your massive commitment and hard work during a difficult and unique year.  And of course, we got the rare celebration of England getting through to the final of the Euros.

So, hopefully these things will have lifted your spirits a bit and provided some moments of joy.

But the mood still feels a little flat. People are anxious about what a return to ‘normality’ will bring in the context of rising covid cases. There don’t seem to be as many England flags and pennants on cars as you would expect and I even managed to drag my hubbie out open water swimming when the football was on so he missed the first half. Not sure he would normally do this!

And, for staff in the NHS, we are grateful for the appreciation people have shown during the 73rd birthday celebrations, it is absolutely right to pay tribute to the courage and compassion of our staff. However, we know that this year has left its mark and many people are tired and burnt out and worrying about what the next year is going to bring. We know that demand for our services and expectations on our ability to deliver are rising and this is going to be incredibly challenging when we start from a place of tiredness.  

At the start of the pandemic, people were anxious, of course. But also highly motivated and engaged. You absolutely rose to the challenge. In recent months, however, exhaustion has set in. The sheer length of the pandemic, the yo-yo effect of good news followed by bad news, staffing pressures and increasing service demand are stressors that have brutally worn people down. 

And this isn’t just about those on the frontline. If the thought of another day of back-to-back MS Team meetings makes you want to hide under the covers, you are not alone. If you boot up your laptop, open your inbox, and see hundreds of new messages — many beginning with, “I hope you are well” - and your heart sinks, you are not alone.

Corporate teams have also had the redesign consultation on top of this. It’s been necessary to go through this structural change, which is partly financially driven, but we know it’s been hard. If we could have done it in a different way at a different time, we would have. I am sorry about the extra pressure this has piled on.

We also can’t separate work pressures from home pressures, whether we’re working in a ward or at the dining room table. They don’t sit in separate boxes.

As I’ve highlighted before, some of you have lost loved ones. Some of you have partners who have lost their jobs or children who aren’t coping. Some of you have missed out on experiences and life milestones, like weddings and funerals. You may be tired of the safety protocols. You may be tired of the pressure to have made ‘good use’ of the restricted free time or make up for it going forward. I certainly felt that if I heard one more time that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine during a pandemic, I was going to lose it!

Being mentally and physically exhausted tends to lower resilience and boost feelings of dread and helplessness. And if we’re exhausted and our ability to cope is lowered, then we’re less able to do anything about those negative feelings. Stress and burnout will undermine everything we are trying to do if we don’t find solutions.

Our board is taking this extremely seriously and discussing what we can do; from securing more funding from commissioners to looking at innovative workforce solutions, there will be a significant focus on workforce development over the coming months. And also, because we can’t expect you to thrive professionally if you’re struggling personally, we need a holistic approach to wellbeing which is attentive to the needs of the whole person. We need to think about how to help you recover in a good way.

And it continues to be important that we take every opportunity to show our appreciation, so we are exploring what a staff appreciation event might look like to say thank you for everything you have done over the last year.

It is so positive that the NHS has received the George Cross collectively for 'acts of the greatest heroism'. Coincidently, it was my 37th wedding anniversary the week of the NHS 73rd anniversary (and I did think I deserved a medal for making it so long in a marriage!), but how well deserved is the George Cross award to the NHS. Absolutely amazing.

So, we will keep working hard to find solutions and do everything we can to support you. We know it’s tough out there still. In turn, please look out for yourself and others. Make sure stress assessments are taken within your team. Take regular stock of how you are feeling and coping. Try and set boundaries, work regular hours, and please make sure you take your holidays.

You are the beating heart and pride of this organisation - our most precious resource.

Best wishes,

Claire

You can follow me on Twitter @ClaireMolloy2

Friday, 18 June 2021

Different boats in the storm

At the beginning of the pandemic it was commonly said that the virus did not discriminate - everyone could be affected, and we were all ‘in it together’. 

It then became increasingly evident that the virus was having a different impact on some groups in society. A new phrase emerged suggesting that whilst we were all experiencing the same ‘storm’ we were in different ‘boats’.  And, as the pandemic unfolded, we saw the disadvantaged, the elderly, people from ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities all being disproportionately affected by the effects of covid.

People with learning disabilities have been over three times more likely to die from covid than those in the general population. We have lost service users to covid, which I know has been very distressing for our learning disability teams and of course their loved ones.

The statistics are shocking and sombre, but maybe not surprising to those already aware of the health inequalities they faced before the pandemic, including premature avoidable death.  People with a learning disability were often marginalised and had a harder time in society before, and the pandemic has sadly amplified the everyday discrimination and health inequalities they experience. Many have also not understood why certain changes are happening, and have had even less choice and control over their lives than usual.  They have suffered isolation, loneliness and the loss of their independence.

So, I very much hope that the learning disability awareness week running at the moment has helped promote the fact that more needs to be done to support them. I also hope that the week celebrates the uplifting stories, outstanding services, and inspiring people driving through change as they greatly deserve our thanks, admiration and applause.

This year’s theme for the awareness week has been arts and creativity. As for many people with a learning disability and their families, this has been a way to stay connected and positive.

We’ve been promoting stories such as Mark Needham who has been painting throughout the pandemic. Mark is supported by our Rochdale community learning disability team and paints things he loves from his mum’s garden to Michael Crawford in Phantom of the Opera because “it makes him happy”.

Arts and creativity enrich all of our lives. It develops our creative thinking skills, gives a fresh perspective and allows innovation to flourish. It helps reduce stress, build our confidence and keeps us ‘present’, distracting us from worries and focusing our attention. It enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.

We are all born creative, but some of us forget how to be creative somewhere along the way. As Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

All the restrictions seem to have boosted a tsunami of creativity though, whether it’s been through gardening, sewing, painting, photography, cooking or singing. Virtual choirs, knitting clubs and online arts and dance classes have sprung up everywhere. A host of creative TV programmes promoting and celebrating the immense talent out there have also been storming ahead in the ratings. They shine a light on what can be done by ordinary people with a special set of skills.

I’ve so loved watching the Great British Sewing Bee. Charming judges, wonderful contestants and the spirit-lifting sight of creativity springing from human hands makes this contest soothing for the soul. I’m rubbish at sewing, having only ever made an Eeyore soft toy and unwearable dress when I was at school, but I’ve loved watching twelve amateur sewers wowing us with fabric creations. Damien from Bolton, who has been described as ‘TV gold’ and ‘an absolute legend’ was a joy to watch. The engineer started teaching himself to sew three years ago when a pair of work trousers needed altering and won fans throughout the competition with his individuality, positivity, and, let’s face it, his complete refusal to stick to the brief. 

I also love The Great Pottery Throw Down and Portait Artist of the Year and have been inspired to book onto an art course in September. It will cover everything, from the technical side of translating what you see onto paper as well as using different mediums such as acrylics, oils, charcoal etc. In preparation I’ve started sketching, just to get a sense of how far I have to go! I really don’t have any talent for drawing or painting (not being modest, trust me I don’t), but it does matter. I’m going to unleash my inner child. After all, there are no rules to creativity. 

And creativity is not exclusively an artistic pursuit that we do in our spare time, but rather the process of generating new ideas and solving complex problems. It’s critical for an organisation in order to develop and thrive. We have to think creatively to deliver the best services we can, something we’ve seen in abundance over this last year.

The consultation for the corporate services redesign is currently underway for example and this involves thinking creatively about how we can adapt and change our corporate services to make the required efficiency savings following the transfer of community health services, while looking at how we can best support our new clinical and operational teams and the wider system.

Some teams are coming up with alternative proposals that they think could work well for their teams and our organisation, so it’s great to see imagination and creativity flowing through this process. I want to stress how much we encourage this. Consultations are about hearing views about a set of proposals and seeking views and opinions in a genuinely open way. Only after the consultation has finished will a final set of proposals be created before moving into any management of change.

But I know that this is a stressful, worrying and difficult time for corporate colleagues. It’s more complex with everyone working remotely, and of course people are also doing their ‘day job’ on top of this. This is putting additional strain on teams and so I hope we can support our corporate colleagues as much as we can, showing kindness and understanding.

We’re asking everyone in Trust HQ to carry on working as they have been over the last year in terms of location, especially with the lifting of final restrictions being put back. We hope by the end of the summer to have a draft business case about how we might use Trust HQ going forward, as we need to hold onto the benefits of agile working, so we will be engaging with you for ideas about how this should look.

When I touch on different themes, stories and pieces of work in this blog it feels, every single time, that our values are a golden thread running through all that you do. Kindness, fairness, ingenuity and determination. Thank you, once again, for living and breathing these. They will help play our part in building a better world.

Best wishes

Claire

You can follow me on Twitter @ClaireMolloy2

Friday, 28 May 2021

A sense of belonging…

Claire Molloy (top) and
Pauline Flint (bottom)

It’s an honour to have Pauline Flint, a former patient who now volunteers on Taylor Ward at Tameside Hospital, share her story for our guest blog. Volunteers’ Week starts on 1 June and we are so grateful to all our volunteers. They give their time to help others with a generosity of spirit, kindness and compassion that fills our hearts.

Best wishes

Claire

Pauline Flint

I was invited to write a ‘blog’ about my journey to becoming a volunteer with Pennine Care, so here goes. 

Anyone who knows me in person would probably be smiling at me using words like ‘blog,’ as I have no technological skills and even less understanding of its terminology.

I have been a volunteer since March 2019. And on the whole I have found it a very rewarding experience. I also feel very humbled to have become a volunteer on Taylor ward, because my experience of Taylor ward prior to this had been many admissions as an inpatient.

Shall I say that I am now rather mature in years. My childhood was rather grim to say the least. My family had little money; my mother was a nurse, my father had spent a large part of his life suffering from different illnesses, and I have a brother a little older than myself. We lived in a rather rundown house, which was owned by my nan who also lived with us.

The situation was extremely cramped, relationships strained, and I was abused because of it.

Despite all the poverty, relationship problems and abuse, when I left school I went to college, where I met my closest friends, and I am still in touch with them today.

As we got to the end of our college life, we started going out ‘clubbing’. One of my friends set me up on a blind date with a lad called Graham when I was 18. We married when I was 20 and he has now been putting up with me for over 40 years - we still get on so well.

My first job was as a nursing assistant at Offerton House, which was an old hospital looking after adults with learning difficulties. At that time the term was mentally subnormal (horrible).

I applied to do my pupil nurse training in order to train as an enrolled nurse in mental health, a level of trained nurse that no longer exists. And if my view counted, I would say that the enrolled nurses – whose job was to ensure the ward was running smoothly and the patients were receiving the care they required, while the registered nurses managed the office, did the ward rounds, and did staff rotas etc - is one that would be better brought back into use.

I worked as an enrolled nurse on what was then the new acute psychiatric unit at Stepping Hill hospital (whoops giving away my age now) for two years.

I was about to move onto pastures new, when I found I was expecting my first baby. I gave birth to my first daughter Rachael, in 1984. I went back to work part-time, but it wasn’t to work out for me, and I ended up working at what was then Hyde hospital with people with dementia. I thought I wouldn’t really like it, but needs must. As it was I loved it, on the whole the staff were lovely, the patients could be difficult and challenging at times, but the work was extremely rewarding.

However, two years later I found I was expecting again, and working hours at the time were just totally unsuitable, so I left my nursing job.

I had a child minder for Rachael, and it turned out we were expecting our babies at the same time. We became good friends. We had many long talks together about child care, and the lack of nursery provision at the time. 

And, after many discussions and some initial training, we opened a playgroup in 1988.

We were very successful in our work, my business partner was already a well received member of the local community, and at last I felt I had found where I wanted to be. I was a member of the local church, I had a lovely home on the edge of Werneth Low country park, a loving supportive husband, and two beautiful bright children, both doing well at school and with their own hobbies and friends. More than I could ever have imagined.

However in 1995, black dark memories came back to haunt me, to this day I have no idea why. 

For the very first time I opened up the dark part of my life to my close friend and business partner, who encouraged me to speak with my husband. I thought talking about these dark secrets would make them go away, but although I followed advice and sought help from other agencies, I went into a deep depression. Visits to the GP and various types of antidepressants did not help and I became very ill. 

I was referred to the psychiatrist and my nightmare got worse, with ECT treatment and a long time as a patient in the day hospital. However I made a recovery and retrained as a registered mental health nurse. I was luckily still under the care of an excellent care co-ordinator. 

As I was doing so well, my GP, who had been concerned at the high dose of medication I was on, decided that a reduced dose would probably maintain me. But within two weeks I started to become ill, recognising the symptoms I had previously had - emotional instability, bad tempers for no reason, excessive tiredness, horrible. I contacted my GP and community psychiatric nurse, and was advised to increase the meds again, but for whatever reason they just didn’t help.

And so I ended up leaving my job, and once again found myself on what seemed like a long unending journey to find an answer to my problems.

This period of illness/recovery, lasted nearly 17 years, I would also undergo further courses of ECT as that would help lift my mood, and different types of anti-depressants, which unfortunately didn’t render my mood stable, and so I would deteriorate yet again. 

I was admitted to hospital many times. Usually I would refuse to stay, but as I was considered a danger to myself, I would be placed on a section of the mental health act. My last admission to hospital was in 2012 when I had become very low in mood and felt completely dark inside. 

It was like fighting a battle that I was never going to win.

I had planned to end the battle by ending my life. People say you have so much to live for, but I just felt like a burden - that the pain inside was endless, and there was no hope of a life worth living. I was admitted on section 3 of the mental health act which was renewed at least twice and my hospital stay was approximately 2 1/2 years.

It was eventually decided to change my medication to a drug I had been on during my first recovery phase, so I didn’t expect it to work. But like a miracle, it started to have the desired effect, and I was finally well enough to be discharged.

Feeling better, being in recovery, and being finally discharged and home, is supposed to be a good place to be and I had wanted it for so long. But due to my long illness I had lost a lot of confidence, my husband and my daughters were always supportive. But I had few friends, those who had been close had moved on with their lives and I felt I know longer fitted in. On top of this I suffer from problems with my memory, that I attribute to the many courses of ECT I have had.

There I was at home, with my family feeling ok, but not knowing what to do with myself.

I was offered a support worker; I said ‘no’ at first, as I wanted to be away from all things ‘hospital’. But my family encouraged me to try and so Georgie came along. She was great, the first couple of times we met we talked, she got to know what I liked doing, how I had always wanted to turn the small upstairs room into a craft room. The third time we met she asked to look at the room, and started suggesting ways it could be done, then helped me to sort it out and get it done. She began to introduce me to other groups, with other people who had similar interests - baking, crafts etc - and I gained more and more confidence in myself.

As it grew I went back to church, and became involved in projects there. I set up a group we called Time to Talk; to help with this, I went on courses at MIND. I had also still had some involvement with the mental health unit, having been asked to be an inpatient representative on the acute care forum. I knew some of the staff who attended, especially Bernie Connolly, ward manager on Taylor ward at Tameside, who I have known for shall I say quite a few years.

I overheard Bernie at one of these meetings asking if they had had any luck getting a volunteer in to work with the recovery and inclusion team. I also heard the answer, which was ‘no’. I had always been under the impression that if you had been a patient on the ward, maybe because there might be patients you know personally, or perhaps nurses maybe finding working alongside you rather than looking after you a bit difficult, that you could not volunteer on that ward.

But at that point I had been well for years with no admissions, so I thought I would just muscle in and said, “I’d love to do that, if I was allowed”.

From that point, everything moved quite quickly. There were application forms, procedures, and training days. I have now been working with Sam on Taylor ward, who is my immediate manager, for about two years on and off, what with Covid 19 and its rules. He has always been very supportive. I can ask him if I need any help with anything, but I also feels he trusts me well enough now to tell him if I am having problems or not managing something or a situation very well. 

When I first started on the ward, I had training in order to be able to hold keys needed to gain access to certain areas on the ward, I also have to wear an alarm. The keys were very difficult for me to take at first. As these had obviously been used in the past to keep me out of areas, and to keep me safely ON the ward. It felt really odd to have a set of my own, I asked Roger (security) if he really was happy about me having them! 

Mostly, I love working on the ward, indeed I was a finalist for the Pennine care community award - placed in the last three. 

Alas I didn’t win, but I felt so proud to have just been nominated. I love what I am doing and it’s so rewarding when a patient has said they have no skills and no concentration to do anything, but then completes maybe a colouring or some sewing with you, and shows so much gratitude for your help. 

I know it has encouraged them sometimes when they have said, “But you have no idea how it feels to be me and be here” and my reply is one of “No, you’re right, I don’t know what it’s like to be you, but as for being here, I do know how it feels”.

This often opens what has seemed like a locked door, and they realise that I have had the experience of mental illness and its problems, and other people’s lack of understanding of how it is to suffer the pain of an illness that is mostly unseen by others. The comments such as “Pull yourself together”, or “Look at all the nice things you have, stop being selfish”.

This awareness can sometimes help them open up, feel a little more relaxed and maybe even try a craft, or just sit and have a chat, rather than just hide in their room.

Despite my initial worries regarding being accepted by staff - some of whom had known me previously as a patient - I really needn’t have had any. They have all accepted me, given me lots of support, and when they have time they have joined in.

I do find it difficult witnessing some scenes of abuse towards staff, mostly verbal, that sometimes cannot be helped because of the patient’s illness. I also need my own support sometimes that comes mostly from family, but I also have attended our Trust’s health and wellbeing college. I find the courses very helpful, even if I might have done the work before I find it a good way to keep myself on track, and remind me that my own mental and physical health is as important as everyone else’s.

I have also been part of the PALS lived experience group, and was able to attend a course on mental health first aid because of this. Had I not had that opportunity, I could not have done the course as I would not have been in a position to pay for it. This course has proved extremely helpful to me, being able to offer advice and where appropriate give help, during this pandemic.

During the last period of lockdown, although I was allowed to volunteer on the ward if I had wanted too, I had felt particularly under strain. I decided as well that as I had certain child care obligations, it would be safer to stay at home. Since I returned I have reduced my time to one half day. Hopefully once the Covid crisis is over, and I get myself organised again I will go back to two half days.

However I wasn’t totally idle during the last lockdown, as I volunteered to help at the Pennine Care trust headquarters, as part of the escort team, taking people for their vaccinations and escorting them out. It helped me keep a bit fitter since I no longer go to the gym. 

Finally, if anyone ever needs encouragement to make the step to becoming a volunteer, I would say give it a try. You don’t have to take the same role as myself. The volunteer staff could probably guide you into the right work for you. Give it a go, it gives me a sense of responsibility, with the advantage of taking a break when I need to.

And most importantly, it has given me back a sense of belonging and being needed that I thought I would never have again. 

I would like to say a massive thank you, to all those who were involved in my care during my illness. And an even bigger one for accepting me into my present role. 

Friday, 14 May 2021

Nature is a thousand miracles

I recently went climbing for the first time in 18 months and felt absolutely terrified.

My husband and I went up to the Lake District for a short break and met up with some friends during the day to do some climbing and cycling. Even the most friendly rock routes seemed so steep and scary! I felt like an unconfident novice, totally overwhelmed with little recollection of how to move on rock. 

The pandemic has infiltrated every part of our lives, so it’s probably no surprise that I was a bag of nerves. But we tried to stay relaxed and took it very easy and gradually it started coming back to me and I was up and away.

It began to feel familiar again, and with the fresh air filling my lungs and the sun beating down on my face (we were so lucky to have great weather), I realised how much I had missed it. When I climb, the magic of nature takes over and the heaviness of life lifts.

I returned home energised, feeling so much better with the world in general, and grateful.

Covid has made so many more of us aware of how much we need nature, and that’s why it just had to be this year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week. We need nature to stay mentally well at the best of times, and still more in the worst of times.

I have many happy outdoor places, finding so much joy just being out in the open air, and I’ve loved seeing your posts about how nature helps your wellbeing as part of the mental health awareness week promotion.

Nature soothes us, rejuvenates us, inspires us. It nourishes the soul.

You’ll know better than me all the research showing its power in helping to reduce anxiety and stress, improve mood, raise self-esteem, and improve well-being. 

Nature is a thousand miracles. It's a wonderful feeling to push even a tiny piece of the planet down beneath your feet. Just imagine if the stars appeared in the sky only one night every decade, oh how we would marvel in awe. 

Touching mountain rocks that are millions of years old brings such perspective; they are earth’s everlasting monuments. It can make any problems I may have suddenly seem smaller.

I felt at times during lockdown that I would never get back to climbing, as it’s easy to think something might never happen when it’s delayed, paused and then postponed again. It becomes a bit unimaginable.

It has felt a bit like that with Paris, our electronic patient record programme! We’ve been talking about it for so long, with the go live date for the third cohort being pushed back several times. 

But it’s absolutely happening in just over a week on 24 May. An incredible amount of preparatory work has been taking place with 142 Paris champions now in place, and I want to thank everyone who is working tirelessly in preparation on this significant work.

So, in the same way I dusted off my helmet and harness and got ready for my climb, it’s essential you are all as ready as you can be and ensure you have the training and get familiar with the system.

The big difference is that Paris isn’t a mountain you need to metaphorically climb; it will hopefully transform your working lives for the better, bringing a host of benefits to clinical teams and patients. That includes being able to access up-to-date, accurate and complete information about patients all in one place. It should give you more time to focus on patient care, which is what all our work is ultimately about.

Its success will depend on all our clinicians and professions using it and helping us make it better. And no more so, than our largest staff group - nurses – you have an essential role in ensuring its successful implementation. I know you’ll rise to the challenge, just as you always do. And it was brilliant to have the opportunity to recognise, thank and applaud nurses this Wednesday for International Nurses Day. 

Your dedication, skill and compassion throughout the pandemic has been truly phenomenal, from caring selflessly for patients to delivering a successful vaccine programme to colleagues. 

You have climbed your own challenging mountain and reached the very top. We salute you.

Best wishes,

Claire

You can follow me on Twitter @ClaireMolloy2

Friday, 23 April 2021

Guest blog from Nicky Tamanis, finance director

Nicky Tamanis

Meeting people and building relationships is essential when you start a new job - but, when you’re working remotely, it’s a completely different experience. 

You won’t bump into people in the corridor, have the half-day orientation to see different teams, or enjoy an impromptu chat over coffee.

I joined Pennine Care as director of finance last September and it’s been a surreal experience to say the least. I was absolutely thrilled to be appointed, but starting a new job in the middle of a global pandemic is not something I had on my bucket list.  Almost as soon as I started, national restrictions were reinstated to manage the second wave, and there I was home-alone staring into a screen all day.

When you’re in the office, conversations happen organically. You’ll naturally talk with people around you, or you’ll ask if they can give you their opinion on work. I’ve always loved that part of the job.

So it’s been a trickier start than pre-pandemic, but it would have been a much lonelier experience if everyone here hadn’t been so thoughtful, helpful and made so much effort to connect. I’m really grateful for that, thank you.

Getting to grips with the complexity of the services which Pennine Care provides across five boroughs has been an interesting challenge. A great example of this is the challenge we face around beds, which was highlighted when I met the patient flow team in Bury.

It’s been a fascinating learning curve, but it’s also felt like a shared experience as we’ve all been impacted by the pandemic and forced to work differently. So in some ways, it’s been a bit of a weird bonding experience!

I’ve learned to stay close remotely, and ring-fenced time to get to know my colleagues and teams on an individual and personal level.  It’s an essential part of building trust and team spirit, especially with the corporate services redesign underway which has brought some uncertainty and understandable anxiety. Although when Lola my German Shepherd is barking in the background it might feel like a less than calm chat!

It’s just frustrating that I’ve not been able to say hello to more of you, but hopefully that time will soon come.

When I have been able to squeeze in a safe visit, it’s been such an enjoyable escape from the house. David Lees, our head of capital projects in estates, has taken me out on site visits; so I’ve been to Tameside where our new psychiatric intensive care unit is being built, the new single gender accommodation in Bury and Rochdale and also Forest House in Oldham where our 24/7 patient helpline service is housed. You’ll know better than me that some of our buildings and areas are in desperate need of a facelift and how much the environment impacts on working lives and the patient experience. So it’s been brilliant to see the improvements first-hand.

This pandemic has also given us new opportunities, with the teams I’m responsible for playing a crucial and pivotal role. I heard someone say the other day that, “there is no back-office” in the NHS. And I couldn’t agree more, as our IT, estates and facilities teams have been hard at work supporting clinical teams on the front-line. The Windows 10 project leading up to Christmas was time critical, so our engineers were going out to wards and other patient areas throughout that time.

We’re now preparing for the PARIS electronic patient record to go live for inpatient and outpatient teams, followed by older adults community services and secondary care psychological services. The system will transform the way clinical teams work and should bring tremendous benefits in terms of safety, efficiency and co-ordinated care.

The old argument about whether it’s right to prioritise modern technology in the NHS is over. The pandemic has proven beyond doubt that better tech is vital for the future success of our NHS services. And we always need to ensure a ‘user-centric’ approach to technology, because at the end of the day this is about improving patient outcomes and your working lives. These are never just IT projects.

So, thank you again for such a warm welcome and your support over these first eight months. I’ve felt the virtual hugs and helping hands and really look forward to meeting even more of you along the ‘road to freedom’.