In Mind: A discussion on the values of engagement sessions @Mersey_Care

In the latest of a series of guest blogs over the next few weeks, Dr Arun Chidambaram, Mersey Care’s Deputy Medical Director, discusses the importance of consultant engagement and looking after our own staff.

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When I was asked to write a blog, I wondered where to start. The obvious place was back to the beginning of my career as a psychiatry Senior House Officer in Mersey Care, where I worked in Park Lodge, Mossley Hill, Broadoak and Ashworth. This involved driving up and down to Southport for on calls, before completing my higher training in Scott Clinic and Ashworth. When I took up my current job, I met with Joe Rafferty and David Fearnley, Mersey Care’s Chief Executive and Medical Director, who both talked passionately about enhancing consultant engagement, which is something I’m also passionate about. We’d made some real progress in the engagement work during my time at Mersey Care, Whalley (then Calderstones).

Step one was to meet with, and get the views of, all of the consultants. Risk and incident management workshops were facilitated over a period of a year to bring people together. I asked most of our consultant colleagues what mattered to them and so it was heartening to read that their priorities were related to patient care, access to a full multi-disciplinary team and care co-ordination. Upon reflection, what became apparent to me was that, having read all of their priorities, there was no mention at all of any support for themselves.

More often than not, as mental health professionals, we tend to look after others more than ourselves. Perhaps that’s why we choose to work in mental health or indeed the health service generally. Whenever we fly on an aeroplane the safety instructions before the flight always reinforce that we must wear our own allocated oxygen mask before helping those who are vulnerable. I recall having heard our Chairman, Beatrice Fraenkel, ask why, as a mental health trust, we can’t be better at looking after our own staff’s health and wellbeing? I suppose this is a professional blind spot.

Having done the ground work with the consultants, I partnered with Fiona Smith from our Organisational Effectiveness team to deliver a workshop exclusively for consultants. You might ask, why not our trainee doctors? But I was clear that this was not about hierarchy but about a bespoke need. I also sent invitations to consultant colleagues across all divisions to ensure that there was a good representation of specialities, localities and divisions. I knew they all had very little time to spare and I wanted to get maximum value for their time available.

Initially full of enthusiasm, it wasn’t until the morning of the workshop that I began to have doubts. I realised I was about to discuss this with important colleagues, one of which had been my supervisor and others were already respected consultants when I was taking baby steps.

Despite technical glitches with a video, my colleagues soon joined in discussing all of our shared priorities and I made sure we had plenty of time to talk about ourselves. I heard the word “collective” and the room started to fill with enthusiasm, positive energy and a strong and deeply felt desire to be involved in Trust activities and promote the Just and Learning culture.

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I took all the positive feedback to our Trust Board to ensure the views of the workshop were heard at the top of the organisation. I also forwarded a request from the Royal College of Psychiatry, who had recently asked for more psychiatrists on Twitter. Before I left for home that day, I noticed that two of my colleagues had activated their Twitter accounts and shared their thoughts. We agreed that we will meet again with an even bigger group to progress the engagement work even further.

It’s often said that a picture is worth a thousand words and that is reflected in the picture above of the recent workshop session, which just exudes positive energy. I hope that continues and we can all help this Trust achieve a ‘Just and Learning Culture.’