31 Jul


Loads of practical ideas for improving the daily experiences and treatment outcomes of mental health inpatients

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Mental health wards up and down the country are doing superb work, despite extraordinary challenges, and are creating healing, imaginative and fun opportunities for thousands of patients. Star Wards works in happy partnership with mental health wards to improve everyone’s experiences and outcomes – patients, staff, family, friends and carers.

Star Wards, which is a project of the social justice charity Bright, is a catalyst for inspiring positive change. Over the years we’ve created other resources: CAMHELEON – A scheme which aims to inspire therapeutic care in Child and Adolescent Mental health (CAMHS) inpatient wards. WARD STARS – An achievement scheme for mental health care assistants and other support staff. MARVELLOUS CARE – For mental health staff looking after patients with a learning disability in acute care. ANIMAL MAGIC – Promoting the therapeutic use of animals in mental health care. BRIEF ENCOUNTERS – A guide for none-mental health wards for coping with emotionally distressed patients. WARDIPEDIA – Our encyclopaedic resource of good practice in acute mental health care. TALKWELL – Helping communication between staff and patients. WARD BUDDY – Helping ward patients keep track of their care.

It’s completely up to wards, hospitals and Trusts how they’d like to use our resources and approach. This of course fits in very well with our teenyness and budget but the main benefit is that wards feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment because they can truly create their own improvement ideas.

We discover, celebrate, share, publicise and inspire excellence in inpatient care – and there is plenty of that happening! Our approach is very positive and pragmatic – based on ‘appreciative inquiry’ principles of focusing on what is working well, validating this and helping amplify the impact of positive practice. We feel very clear that the single most important factor in enabling a warmly therapeutic experience for patients is staff morale.

We are delighted that, because of Star Wards, staff are finding their roles more fulfilling (“It’s what I came into nursing to do”) and friends and family are appreciating more relaxed visits and other contact with their loved ones in hospital. Star Wards helps wards harness staff’s amazing creativity and skills to make changes which really work for their particular circumstances and patients. The crucial factor is that we collect and share ideas rather than impose standards. This gives wards complete, freedom to use their ingenuity and wisdom to make the most of the ideas and resources.

We’re constantly blown away by the quality of services we visit. Sometimes it’s huge things, like transforming a ward with low morale and high aggression into one where increased safety is both a result and illustration of the new culture of patient engagement and staff satisfaction. Or it may be just a brief, warm exchange between a patient and staff member, capturing the mutual respect and trust which characterises so much inpatient care.

Our members use and adapt our resources to stimulate and structure therapeutic and enjoyable daily programmes for their patients. They come from the full range of wards, older and younger adult, rehab, learning disability, secure and specialist.

Being awarded the Full Monty Award (upon putting in place the 75 Star Wards ideas) is a fantastic accomplishment, representing exceptional expertise, commitment and caring by ward staff, but many wards benefit from Star Wards in small ways that make big differences to staff, patients and carers. Join Star Wards and you are making a commitment to great care and joining a large group of people who want to help you and learn from you.

75 Ideas for Improving Patients’ Quality of Time and Treatment Outcomes

At the heart of the Star Wards project are 75 ideas for improving patients’ quality of time and treatment outcomes. The crucial changes we would like to see are in relation to:

  • talking therapies having as substantial a role as medication
  • helping patients to enhance their own management of symptoms and treatment
  • having a strong culture of patient mutual support, with the potential for this extending once they’ve left hospital
  • sustaining a full programme of daily activities that doesn’t just eliminate boredom but actively contributes to accelerating patients’ recovery
  • helping patients retain and build on their community ties

The ideas are arranged under seven main themes:

  1. Recreation and conversation
  2. Physical health & activity
  3. Visitors
  4. Care planning
  5. Talking therapies
  6. Ward community
  7. Patient responsibility

Within each theme, we list three stages:

‘Tweaking’ – suggestions require minimal changes to current staffing arrangements, at little or no cost.

‘Turning’ – suggestions take things further and require some staffing changes and new resources

‘Transforming’ – suggestions are the biggies – ideas which probably require the most investment.

All ideas are useful for patients who are sectioned and unable to leave the ward. For those who can leave the ward, many of the suggestions are adaptable for use in the community, which is a great way for the ward to stay connected with life outside hospital. For example, some wards use local gym facilities and even have 5 a side football at the local football club. Others have taken on an allotment for patients who’d like to do some gardening. Blurring the boundaries between the hospital and the outside community is brilliant, not just in terms of the quality of those experiences, but also challenging the stigma of being a mental health patient.


Star Wards Booklet (First edition)


Star Wards 1 4.03 MB 3546 downloads


Star Wards Booklet (Second edition)


Star Wards 2 5.02 MB 847 downloads


‘Tweaking, Turning, Transforming’ 75 Ideas Chart and Checklist


Ward Ideas Chart 246.73 KB 918 downloads


75 Ideas Benchmarking Sheet


Benchmarking Sheet 667.04 KB 3964 downloads


If you need help…

We’re offering you the opportunity to book our services, including training days, workshops, project facilitation and coaching (click here for more information). We offer reasonable rates and a bespoke service which aims to enhance the experience of patients, carers/family members and staff. We believe our offer will assist with some of the major challenges services face – to improve standards of safe care and to have less incidents of harm to staff and patients – leading to less staff absence, less complaints, reduced cost of investigation and legal action and reduced reputational damage. It will also help Bright and Star Wards to continue and thrive into the future. We can take you on a Bright Journey fitted to your needs and built around your requirements. For more please information contact us.

What Others Are Saying

“The 75 ideas really help you to look at the ward environment – both physical and social – with fresh eyes. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that we were already doing a number of things outlined in the ideas. It was so helpful to acknowledge the things that were already in place and that by making just a few small changes to other areas that the patients felt much more confident and comfortable on the ward.”

Rachel Latham, Occupational Therapist

“[Star Wards] enthusiastically uses patient insights to improve the practice and quality of inpatient mental healthcare and create a more empathetic and therapeutic space on hospital wards. Its work is serious, yet never loses sight of the importance of fun, food and animals, amongst other things, in the delivery of good acute care.”

The Guardian

“Who would have thought when Star Wards was launched in October 2006 that just 18 months later the majority of acute mental health wards in the country would be enthusiastically participating, with a number of other health services keen to adapt the initiative. Why, when the NHS is reportedly overburdened with targets and initiatives, is this so? (click here to find out!)

Star Wards, like most really good ideas, is essentially simple. The initiative is based on service user insight that recognises, taps into and spreads the wealth of innovative practice that occurs in so many local acute mental health services… ‘small things make a big difference’. Things like being listened to, feeling a part of things, having something meaningful to do. Star Wards emphasises the positive, conveying messages of engagement inclusion, involvement, fun and success…

Key to the enthusiastic uptake of Star Wards is that it is owned by the staff and service users on the wards. Star Wards is an acknowledgement that staff working on acute mental health wards are allies of positive change who deserve better recognition of their efforts and achievements…”

Paul Rooney, Joint National Lead CSIP/NIMHE Acute Care Programme

A Happy Partnership

Our former CEO Marion Janner OBE set up Star Wards following her time as a detained inpatient. She was struck by how wonderful the staff were and how hampered they were by the impoverished environment. Since then, Bright (the charity which runs Star Wards) has co-created with wards lots of lovely, practical, attractive publications and schemes which are helping thousands of patients to have more therapeutic and enjoyable admissions.

“Star Wards is simple, practical and upbeat. It’s different, as it’s inspiring, rather than instructional. It’s unique, as ward staff have a strong sense of ownership of the Star Wards project, resulting in very impressive and imaginative new therapeutic opportunities for patients. There is also evidence of a range of staff revealing and extending their skills and experiences and talents.”

Ivan Lewis MP

Marion Janner and assista 001

“We provide ideas and resources and wards adapt and add to these in fantastic, energising, creative ways. We recognise the huge pressures you’re already under, and try to ease and definitely not exacerbate these! We hope that you’ll want to reciprocate the openness and generosity of Star Wards’ members, by sharing your best practice examples, challenges and resources such as benchmarking tools, and guidelines.”

Marion Janner

Great News

650 wards are members  (about 80% of UK mental health wards). Membership is free for all NHS wards, thanks to generous support from charitable trusts.

Our 2013 Impact Review showed the extent to which ward communities are benefiting from their involvement. The percentages of member wards reporting benefits of Star Wards were:

Increased activities – 88%

Increased patient satisfaction – 77%

Decrease in aggression – 60%

Here’s a sample of what staff and patients have said about why they appreciate being involved with Star Wards:

“In my opinion every acute ward in the country should implement as many of the Star Wards ideas as they possibly can. I have never known an initiative to be met with such enthusiasm by the staff that actually work on our wards.”

“Patients feel more empowered, this creates more motivation, improved relationships between staff and patients, staff and staff, less division, more optimistic attitude, improved mental health for patients and some discharges which I believe have happened sooner.”

“It is helping the patients to socialise and it is great fun. For example we now have karaoke on the ward which is headed up by a patient. We even have patients from other wards who come and join us for this. We are all really enjoying it.”

“Giving the service users the opportunity to participate in the star wards process encouraged and facilitated a sense of involvement, belonging and responsibility for service users.   It was an opportunity for them to feel that their opinions are valued.”

“Somehow it manages to combine improvements in the quality of care for patients with improvements in job satisfaction for our front line staff – a winning combination.”

“Star Wards is a perfect example of how to engage and motivate staff and service users to improve servicers inpatient experience without a mandatory regulation scheme and high cost tag attached.”

“Since the inception of the Star Wards initiative I have become more creative and innovative in the way I execute my role as a SHCA than before. I have made enormous contribution towards the achievement of most of the 75 Star Ward ideas.”

“I am a service user who has become involved in my local acute care forum, and i would just like to let you know i think your input in the booklet is fantastic and it has given me a lot of inspiration to continue. I also love your dog.”



Click here to make a donation


You might be wondering – what difference does Star Wards actually make to mental health wards? It’s a question we continuously ask ourselves, to make sure that we are having a positive impact. Well, we have over 800 wards signed up to receive our resources and, in the past, we have had Star Wards independently evaluated. A micro-summary of what our users have said is that wards who tried Star Wards ideas had:

This is not about us, it is about people like you. These improvements are down to your hard work. And you can check our newsletters for wards doing amazing things right now. So we are told we do help you make a difference – and we want to get better and be here to help you in the future. So, join up, join in and let us know your wonderful ideas – and if you can donate to us or fundraise for us, we would be delighted to hear from you. Thank you for all you do.