Star Wards’ Newsletter #11

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Welcome to the latest newsletter and a warm welcome to the new members of the network, including all 13 (wow!) wards from South Birmingham and Sandwell trusts. There are now almost 100 wards piloting Star Wards! Thanks to the suggestion from the head of policy at the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, we’re working on the idea of an accreditation-lite or achievement recognition scheme for healthcare assistants. Something along the lines of Star Awards. We’d really welcome your views and ideas on this.

I went to a fascinating seminar on psychiatry run by Mind, and heard from the profoundly impressive Prof Kwame McKenzie about an amazing service set up by and for young African Caribbean people with severe mental health problems – Antenna, co-incidentally in my borough, Haringey, home of the wonderful St Ann’s hospital. It’s really worth reading about in detail – please see our blog:

News from trusts

Those of you who’ve read the latest blog about my visit to the fabulous Wotton Lawn Hospital can skip the next bit, unless you’d like to recap on their work. A suggestion for how you could use the few minutes saved…. My dog Buddy has a fundraising page for Samaritans – Or you could just watch the funniest 5 of the minutes of TV ever, Tony Blair meeting Catherine Tate. Or both. With a nice cup of tea.

I was very fortunate to be able to spend the afternoon at Wotton Lawn Hospital, thanks to the dynamic Matron Manager (or the Matron formerly known as Modern), Alan Metherall. The afternoon began in a representatively impressive way, with 7 healthcare assistants giving a presentation about the training they’d recently completed and being awarded their certificates. As well as the valuable content (ranging from ethics, gender issues and recovery  models to the Mental Health Act and de-escalation), the training process is impressive. It includes structured, supportive training sessions, mentoring, observation of work practice, written assignments, discussion and projects.

It’s true, and important to note and advocate, that the hospital has the benefit of some great facilities, including a large gym, physio room, therapy suite – oh, and the glorious Gloucestershire countryside on their doorstep. But other hospitals have equivalent or better services and don’t convert them nearly as effectively into excellent services for patients.

To give you a feel for the excellence of their work, I’ll describe what I learnt about and saw in just one ward. It has a kitchen which has no oven (excessively risk averse planning, presumably) but this hasn’t stopped the creative ward manager from regular cooking sessions for patients. They use a bread-making machine, make microwave and freezer cakes and harness the relaxed sociable potential of communal meals there.

They have visitors from Pets As Therapy (, staff leads in areas as diverse as women’s issues and sports, and an impressive green philosophy. Even tea-bags go to the composter… and I sheepishly removed the plastic cup I’d chucked out, when they diplomatically mentioned that these get used to grow seeds. For the sensory garden that patients and staff are designing and developing. While I was on the ward it was lovely to see a fragile-looking patient absorbed in potting up small plants. And it gets better and better. Patients go to the local garden centre to choose plants; books, brochures and folders about gardening have been resourcefully sought from local gardening clubs; there’s a sheet on the noticeboard where patients have written their ideas for the garden…

Ideas in action – #13 Hospital has full suite of activity rooms

Wotton Lawn patients are indeed lucky that the hospital has so many facilities. And although individual wards in other hospitals can do little about overall hospital provision, improvisation can work well – like the ward described above which runs an imaginative cooking programme despite the lack of oven. For example, this ward has converted an oddly shaped, previously unused alcove into a cosy, bright reading space, complete with a library of attractive novels and, in keeping with the strong green theme, gardening books. So it’s not even necessary to have separate rooms for creative therapies, physical exercise, recreation etc – although these clearly help, especially if there’s likely to be emotional intensity in the sessions.

All the best