Where Are We Now

by Anne O'Connor, National Director, Mental Health, December 2017

Now that our Area Leads for Mental Health Engagement (MHE) have been in place for almost a year and we are coming to the end of 2017...

...I am delighted to have the opportunity to review the working of Mental Health Engagement in this issue of Caidreamh. To do that it will be helpful to recall the recommendations of the Report of the Reference Group of Service Users and Family Members, Partnership for Change, launched by the Minister for Mental Health and Older People in Spring, 2016.  The recommendations were about;

  • The role and function of the Head of Mental Health Engagement as a member of the National Mental Health Division Senior Management Team.
  • The role and function of the nine Area Leads for Mental Health Engagement as members of the Area Management Teams with the HSE Mental Health Services.
  • Structures and mechanisms for feedback and consultation through Local and Area Fora.
  • Capacity building required to support necessary engagement mechanisms and roles.
  • The role of the Office of the Head of Mental Health Engagement.

I said at the time that engaging service users, their families and carers was a critical strategy to improving care and that the development of these recommendations marked another significant step forward in the process of ensuring that the views and experiences of service users, their families and carers were central to the design and delivery of mental health services. That is still very much the case and Liam Hennessy, his colleagues in the National Office, Gerry Maley and Catherine O’Grady, and the nine Area Leads have been working diligently to ensure that good progress has been made with the establishment of the recommended structures. 

For example, it is likely that, by year end, Local Fora will have been set up in almost half the counties in Ireland.  And the UCD School of Nursing, which was commissioned - following a tender process - by the National Office to provide training and capacity building, has just finished a five day training programme in each of the Community Healthcare Organisations (CHOs) for potential participants in the Local Fora in those CHOs.  My understanding is that this training was very well received by those who took part.

But while all of this preparatory work is important, it is not an end in itself. It is not the main purpose of Mental Health Engagement.  Rather it is to have that two way communication so that the views and experiences of service users and their supporters raised in the Fora are not just listened to by the services but actually heard and acted upon. In this context, it is worth pointing out that all of this process is not about “us and them” but is about partnership and co-production in recovery oriented services.

I believe this approach will benefit all stakeholders, service users and their supporters and service providers alike.  After all, as the Irish proverb has it: “Ni neart go chur le cheile”.

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