SWAN Newsletter #2

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Welcome to the second issue of SWAN – Star Wards Action Network. I was fortunate to be able to participate in the NIMHE’s North Eastern Region’s Practice Development Network last week, where several of the Star Wards’ ideas were given a good probing. There was a fascinating presentation from Scunthorpe about how they used the opportunity of moving to new buildings to restructure their whole treatment approach. One of the amazing outcomes has been the huge reduction in the use of ‘time out’ and of intramuscular rapid tranquillisation.

Customer Service Inspiration


“The Disney Imagineer who came up with the idea for the ‘Animal Kingdom’ attraction took it to the Board as a written report and was rejected twice on the grounds people were no longer thrilled by live animals. The third time, he tried a different tack. He walked into the boardroom with a six-foot Bengal tiger instead of a written report. That’s when they got it.”

SOURCE: Kris Murrin, talking to Phil Dourado on how to get others to buy into your ideas for change rather than reject them. There are equally value lessons in this about presentation of information to patients, especially ones that require significant personal change. Our time on acute wards is one of intense change as we move from crisis to some degree of stability, and ideally we will be acquiring sustainable skills in managing our illness and treatment more effectively. I’m not recommending bringing 6 foot Bengal tigers into wards (just 2 foot Tibetan Terriers like my Buddy), but the more intriguing and attractive information looks, the more likely that patients will want to engage with it.

News from trusts

Angus Forsyth at Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland Mental Health Trust has told us about a new role which it would be great to see replicated elsewhere – a Star Wards’ champion. The Champion is a member of staff who also has a service-user and carer development and support remit, which is an interesting role to combine with a lead on Star Wards.

Ideas in action

#3 Ward library

Reading isn’t an option for many patients, perhaps because of the acuteness of their mental illness or literacy problems. But others find it an agreeable way of spending some time, especially as their recovery picks up.

  • Local library services can advise on appropriate books – ones which are popular and easy to read
  • Books are a good opportunity to provide resources and an activity relevant to members of the different community groups represented on the wards
  • It’s good to have a mix of novels, mental health reference and ‘coffee table’ (mainly pictorial) books
  • Although humour is a very personal choice, a selection of funny books (including books of cartoons, eg Gary Larson’s) should go down well
  • Magazines are easier than books to read and more conducive to starting conversations
  • There are lots of sources of ‘free’ books:
    • staff newsletters
    • noticeboards
    • asking people including volunteers and carers
    • a letter in the local newspaper
    • linking with local charity shops, especially if there’s a Mind one
    • I enjoyed reading The Number One Ladies Detective Agency series when I was in hospital. Delightful and undemanding. Maya Angelou’s autobiographies are stunning.

#4 Bank staff recruited specifically for their skills in group activities

Community development workers have a fantastic range of skills including running groups. These would help make bank staff a really valued and valuable addition to the staff team.

Best of luck!




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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.