By Nic Higham
I recently visited Kentmere ward in picturesque Kendal to give them their much deserved Full Monty award. As soon as I walked through the door a real sense of connection and community became clear to me. There are many reasons why Kentmere have achieved the ward, but I’ll just focus on a few here which impacted me the most.
Soon after entering the ward Occupational Therapist (and Star Wards lead) Rachel Latham and I exchanged a few jokes about how much they had paid patients to say nice things about the staff and the care they receive. “Can’t fault anyone”, “Lovely people, lovely ward”, “The staff make everyone feel welcome…and you can pay me later for putting in a good word”. I love this kind of ward banter; you don’t come across it anywhere else. It shows how relaxed and at ease everyone is, even when a total stranger like me visits the ward. That was probably because everyone thought I was a new patient being shown around. It made me think: if I was a new patient, then I’d feel really accepted here. It felt as if everyone was in the same boat, all chipping in to do their bit to support one another. It’s the little things, isn’t it? Rachel laying on a rich spread of biscuits, fruit and pastries. Patients wandering into the art room to add a few pieces to the growing mosaic before grabbing a cup of tea… One of the patients spotting and commenting on one of my tattoos and talking about her creative ideas for her next one. It’s all about human connection and warmth.
Rachel said that working through the 75 ideas has really helped them 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 domains. 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 patients felt much more confident and comfortable on the ward.”
It was in the art room where I met Jodie, the ward’s fab Activity Coordinator who was happily preparing an art project. The introduction of Jodie’s post is one of the main things the ward feels proud about because it provides more consistency across the week around activities, both on a group and individual basis. Jodie happens to be a trained Occupational Therapist (we love OTs) bringing into the activity program an enhanced understanding of activity analysis, and the benefits of personal choice. “I really love the art room” said one patient, “it’s the central hub of the ward, we can hang out and chill in here and it’s always bright and sunny.’ I think that was a perfect way to describe the space – the heart of the ward. Every ward needs this kind of vibrancy. One of my favourite features of the art room was the awesome ‘graffiti wall’ which is made of very clever whiteboard-like wallpaper. Rachel told me that patients are now able to draw, write poems and doodle on the wall to help them express themselves and their needs.
Hospitals are part of the community and as such benefit enormously from input from local volunteers and external agencies. Something we’re passionate about here at Star Wards is helping to connect these talented people with wards to help support and strengthen the care they provide. This is something Kentmere have been working on over the past few years. The team told me that they’re really grateful for the weekly support they receive from a third sector mental health arts organisation called Space2Create. “They are very skilled individuals at encouraging inclusivity into their projects” said Rachel. “They’ve had a lot of success at working with our most withdrawn patients enabling them to produce art projects, learn new techniques or just enjoy watching others work.” Another agency who are making a contribution to the ward is Community Roots, a garden charity. They’re a therapeutic horticultural scheme designed to concentrate and focus on those who are marginalised by society.
Involving organisations external to mental health wards helps create an outward-looking perspective; they can provide post-discharge continuity and a sense of hope. Talking of which, here’s a photo of the ward’s ‘tree of hope’. Discharged patients are invited to leave a note for those on the ward giving some reassurance about how their stay on the ward has helped their recovery journey.
I asked Kentmere’s ward manager Mags Quinn, to say a few words about their Star Wards project: “The Star wards website is great, in that it links us to other mental health wards so that we can utilize ideas from other locations and share good practice. The resources produced by Star Wards… are excellent. They are practical; building confidence in talking to patients and simply being there for patients.” And here’s what Rachel said: “Just go for it! You’ll be surprised what you are already doing to make patients feel at ease and more included.”
It’s wonderful when wards get public acknowledgement for their excellent work. Kentmere’s achievement appeared in the Cumbria Crack site. If the media were to cover every single bit of good practice that takes place every moment of every day, there would be entire newspapers, TV shows and websites dedicated to it! Incidentally, this is what Wardipedia sets out to do.