Somerset to be a trailblazer for mental health care

05 February 2020

Somerset to be a trailblazer for mental health care as new alliance prepares to deliver innovative new approach.

A new alliance of charities has been formed to develop a bold new community-based mental health support service for Somerset residents.

The shared ambition for the Somerset Mental Health Alliance is to ensure that people living with mental health problems get the right support at the right time. As well as reducing waiting times for clinical services, it aims to ensure that people can live a full life in their community, accessing housing, jobs or volunteering opportunities, community activities and physical exercise, to help support and improve their wellbeing and quality of life.

Plans in development also include measures to improve the experience of people going through a mental health crisis, including community alternatives, such as crisis cafes.

The Alliance will work to create a ‘no wrong door’ approach, meaning that a person’s mental health support needs can be responded to regardless of where they come into contact with services, so that the system is easier to navigate and more efficient.

The formation of the alliance, a partnership of ten organisations, is amongst the first in England and represents an innovative and significant change to mental health care in Somerset.

A formal launch and further chances for other community partners to get involved will follow shortly.

Katherine Nolan, Chief Executive, Spark Somerset, said:

"This is an exciting new approach - where NHS services and local voluntary organisations will be working in partnership to ensure that residents of Somerset get the support they need, when they need it.

We recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work when supporting mental health. People need a range of support to help them on their path to recovery. This can range from specialist treatment around their condition to advice around finances, housing and employment, as well as support to build confidence and connect to activities in their community.

There are already hundreds of community groups and local charities across Somerset that are providing much-needed mental health support every day. We’re committed to ensuring that grass roots organisations are fully supported so that they can continue to be part of the solution.”

Will Higham, Associate Director of Programme Innovation at Rethink Mental Illness said,

“The creation of this Alliance is recognition that effective mental health care should be linked to support in the community. It’s not just about what your GP can do; a lack of good housing, steady work, and stable finances can all have serious effects on your mental health, so it’s only right that we start to consider all of a person’s needs when they need treatment.

This approach is the start of something genuinely innovative and it had the input of people with experience of mental health problems. We are proud to be doing this in Somerset, where Rethink Mental Illness has such a long history.

This is a fantastic opportunity to develop mental health care in Somerset, and our aim is for the county to become a role model for what good care and support looks like. Each partner organisation is ready to share their expertise and we will engage new partners and I look forward to seeing what the Alliance can achieve in the coming years.”

Andrew Keefe, Deputy Director of Mental Health and Learning Disability Commissioning, Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group, said:

“We are determined to address the previously unmet needs of people requiring support for their mental health and this supports the NHS Long Term Plan. We’re committed to realising the vision that people with mental health needs receive the same levels of support as those who have physical health needs, while also addressing the stigma that is sadly still all too often associated with mental health.

The contract reinforces the importance of working in an integrated way in our local communities to provide a joined up, seamless service for patients and their carers. This means that health, voluntary, and social care partners will work even more closely.”

NHS England announced last year that Somerset was going to be one of the areas to pilot the new Community Mental Health Framework, the only county in the South West.

The procurement, undertaken by Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and led strategically by Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group and Somerset County Council (both Adult Social Care and Public Health), has seen a contract awarded worth in total over £1million per annum. The contract will begin on 17 January 2020 and run until January 2022, with an option to extend to January 2023.

The alliance comprises national charity, Rethink Mental Illness Ltd, and a further nine local organisations: Age UK Somerset, The Balsam Centre, Chard Watch CIC, Citizens Advice, Mind in Somerset, Second Step, Somewhere House, Spark Somerset and Somerset and Wessex Eating Disorders Association (SWEDA). Other voluntary and community groups will be invited to get involved as development of the service progresses.

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