Designing better mental healthcare facilities

Better supporting those discharged from mental healthcare facilities

Experts at Northumbria University are supporting a £1 million research study, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), which aims to improve the outcomes and experiences of those discharged from mental healthcare facilities.

While some 50,000 people leave such facilities across England every year (based on NHS Digital Mental Health Act Statistics. Annual figures. England 2018-19),  a national survey by Mind found that 40 per cent have no plan in place to support them after they leave. Sarah Rae, a mental health service-user, experienced difficulties when discharged from mental health wards in the past. She is now working alongside researchers from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), two other NHS Trusts, and academics from six universities across the country – including Northumbria. Determined to use her lived experience of two long-stay admissions to improve services for others, she is co-leading the research along with Dr Jon Wilson, a Consultant Psychiatrist at NSFT. The team is working with mental health service-users and carers to develop a new support package for discharge.

“This kind of co-produced research adds an extra dimension,” explained Dr Sonia Dalkin, Associate Professor of Applied Health Research from the Department of Social Work, Education, and Community Wellbeing at Northumbria University “Sarah is an active agent and partner in leading this research, with invaluable input in terms of lived experience, contextual conditions, and processes surrounding discharge planning approaches. Overall, improving the problem of poor discharge would improve the lives, safety, and mental health recovery, of significant numbers of service-users.”

Dr Dalkin (left) is working with Professor Katie Haighton (right), a Professor of Public Health and Wellbeing at Northumbria University, on the research. “We’ll firstly look at the evidence to identify what works, and what doesn’t, in current discharge planning approaches, and uncover why, to help inform the design of a tangible aid for the discharge process,” Prof. Haighton explained,

NICE guidelines state that discharge planning should include staff working together with service-users. The idea of this study is to develop and adopt an ‘Engineering Better Care’ toolkit applicable and adaptable to the discharge process from the standpoint of the people involved –  to include what people feel they need to stay well after leaving hospital.

Speaking about her own experience of leaving mental health hospitals, Sarah Rae said: “I was terrified of going back into the community, made worse by the fact that staff did not try to understand my worries or offer any coping strategies. There was no collaborative discharge planning before leaving hospital. The knock-on effect on my wellbeing and recovery was huge.”

Other partners in the research include the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, University of East Anglia, Anglia Ruskin University, University of Hertfordshire, East London NHS Foundation Trust, and Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.

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