Star Wards awakens an engaging online force

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By Nic Higham

First published in print: 05 October 2016. Mental Health Practice. 20, 2, 12-12.



How a charity that focuses on improving inpatient experiences by making small changes has inspired and motivated staff and service users alike.

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-14-48-55An online resource has been set up by Star Wards, the project using small changes to make a big difference to staff and adolescents using mental health services.

Running film nights in a mental health unit seems obvious when you think about it. While not part of the mental health nursing curriculum, they are what someone needing mental health care appreciates as an inpatient. Complete with popcorn, fi lm nights are among the myriad activities supported by Star Wards, a charity that has focused on improving the inpatient experience for the past 14 years.

Star Wards is about the small changes staff introduce that make a big difference. We work with staff and service users to encourage, inspire, motivate and to spread the word about what other staff are already doing.

This sector is under huge pressure – admissions to inpatient child and mental health services (CAMHS) have doubled since 2000 and are likely to rise further, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre figures. Figures for 2012-2013 showed almost half were emergency admissions, so significant numbers of children and young people were arriving on a specialist ward in extreme need. Yet CAMHS funding had been reduced leading the government to promise emergency cash in 2015.


Ideal time

It was the ideal time to support staff to collaborate with young service users. But how could we help to ensure young people have the best possible inpatient experience in the face of such constraints?

After discussions with the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families in North London, we developed an online resource to support inpatient CAMHS. We built inspiring resources and launched them on a new website called CAMHeleon, dedicated to staff working in CAMHS.

Informed by research into young people’s wellbeing and the input of our members involved in improving ward life, this free online resource offers nurses, healthcare assistants, psychologists, teachers and other professionals best practice themes, articles and research to draw on.


Catalyst for change

Our model is based on the philosophy that change is achieved through support as well as faith in staff and patients. Star Wards is just the catalyst: the staff on the ground alongside service users make the difference. People such as our members Lisa Harris and Tracy Graham, two nurses based at Woodland House in South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, who led a team that developed a range of tools to support young inpatients’ recovery.

This included enlisting the input of young inpatients to develop an electronic, teenage friendly diary/app called Youth Buddy. Each inpatient is given an iPad on admission so they can use the app to record what helps in their recovery, key information they can download and take with them for support when they return to their normal lives.

CAMHeleon is for anyone passionate about exploring ways to improve the quality of the inpatient experience. It is rooted in the concept of the ‘therapeutic alliance’ – that staff can form bonds with young people and families and make shared decisions about care.

Ultimately, success depends on the dedication of often over-stretched staff. While not easy to achieve, staff may fi nd that considering new ways of helping those they care for may not just lift the morale on the ward, but their own too. Inspiration for change is just a click away at



First published in print: 05 October 2016. Mental Health Practice. 20, 2, 12-12.

Categories: Blog, Uncategorised