Mental health network

Keeping it real: Why we let cameras behind the scenes | Sam Allen

Sam Allen

It took a lot of careful consideration before Sussex Partnership invited Channel 5 in to film what it’s like to work in mental health services. Sam Allen, chief executive of the trust, explains why they did.

There were some very good reasons which gave us pause for thought about allowing the cameras in to film mental health services at Sussex Partnership. Chief among them was the wellbeing of the vulnerable people under our care.

There was the potential to cause disruption to their recovery and to get in the way of our staff providing care at a time when they are already under huge pressure.

And – less important, but important all the same – there was the reputational risk of something ending up on screen that might draw criticism of NHS mental health services, and the wider mental health sector, from the viewing public. In mental health, many of the services are provided outside of the NHS by charities which do amazing work, and we don’t want to jeopardise the public’s view of that.

So why do it? I can think of two very good reasons.

Firstly, we have a long way to go to help the public understand what specialist NHS mental health services actually do. As a society, we’re talking about mental health more than ever before. And that goes a long way towards challenging the stigma and discrimination that’s sadly still far too prevalent.

But there are still a lot of myths about mental health that need dispelling, not least what’s involved when you’re admitted to hospital for treatment.

Secondly, I’m keen for the public to see the difficult, demanding job that our staff do, and yet how passionate about patient care they remain throughout everything the working day throws at them.

Working in NHS mental health care is no picnic. But I’m literally blown away all the time by the sense of pride, commitment, dedication and the expertise that abounds across all our services. And, as the NHS turns 70, I believe that’s something we should all be really proud of.

So we took the step to invite ITN productions in to film for Channel 5 at Langley Green Hospital in Crawley. It was far from being a decision we took lightly. And we wouldn’t even have considered it without the backing of the clinical team at Langley Green. They felt it was something important and manageable, though some members of the team had their reservations (which I completely get).

Langley Green is a hospital that’s had its problems in the not-so-distant past. But it’s a hospital where staff have worked really hard to improve things with patients (who they now call service leaders) carers, families and the local community. The team has now got it to the point where they really do provide outstanding care. Things aren’t always perfect (there isn’t a part of the NHS that is), but what really strikes me about the team is its passion to continuously improve things for patients.

We have many fantastic services at Sussex Partnership and across the whole of the NHS. At our best, our teams have a strong sense of shared purpose, shared values and a feeling of being valued by their colleagues.

The Langley Green team has all of those things by the bucket load. Many of them have been involved in fronting our #notjustajob nurse recruitment campaign. There’s no better advert I can think of for the NHS, nursing and mental health than these fantastic, compassionate, highly-skilled staff. The good news is we have many teams across Sussex Partnership where this is the case – we are proud of all of them.

And so what about the finished product – a four-part series of news specials called Healing Minds – that Channel 5 is broadcasting this week?

We felt it important to keep it real. It highlights some of the really difficult aspects of using mental health services and working within them. And it would have felt a bit fraudulent to be involved in a programme that put a glossy spin on things.

It can be really tough to live with mental health problems, both for individuals and their families. Equally, mental health services face sustained pressure all year round. Doing the jobs that our nurses, doctors, psychologists, therapists and other staff do every day is tough. It’s important we recognise that, not least because they deserve our thanks and recognition.

But there’s also hope. Plenty of people in all walks of life live with a diagnosed mental health condition. Some may need help from the NHS from time to time, and some may need to come into hospital. But recovery is possible.

And there’s the hope that our staff carry with them in their work with the patients, families and local communities we service. Hope for individuals and their recovery. Hope that, by working together, we can continue to improve services. And hope that, if we keep talking about it, people need never feel shamed or embarrassed about seeking help for their mental health.

If Healing Minds goes some way towards getting those messages across, then it will have been well worth the risk of taking part.

Healing Minds is scheduled for broadcast on Channel 5 at 6.30pm on Monday 2 July, Tuesday 3 July, Wednesday 4 July and Friday 6 July.

Sam Allen is chief executive of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Follow the trust on Twitter @withoutstigma

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