We (the Practice Solutions team) are coming to the end of our first year supporting the National Mental Health Service User and Carers Forum. From the beginning we knew it was important to get to know the members of the forum and build relationships. We had to try to understand the complexities of the Forums connections with Welsh Government, local charities and Health Boards and pull together a clear picture of how it all worked. But ultimately it was through co-production approach with the forum members, that enabled us to identify what we needed to focus on. This has made for a very busy, but productive first year.

Our broad core objectives were co-produced by Welsh Government and the Forum, and you can see the full list here. We know we are just at the beginning of this journey and of course there have been challenges along the way, often in places we weren’t expecting, but we can see that it has been a successful year for the Forum. They have produced a number of papers including a report on Suicide Prevention and feeding into the Welsh Government’s Together for Mental Health Delivery Plan. The real measure of success is showing how the Forum is able to make a positive difference for people living with mental health problems and their friends, families and carers.

From our perspective we have received some really positive feedback from the members and external stakeholders, but more importantly we are able to help Forum members to see this impact of the work they are doing.

We have consistently been inspired by the members, whose energy and passion for involvement and co-production has been amazing, particularly as they are often faced with being unheard – it takes dedication and persistence to keep going, especially if you are going through times when you don’t feel up to it. Coordinating real co-production in healthcare is never easy; it is not an industry that lends itself easily to genuine equal shared power, but we have made some progress and we hope that momentum can increase.

We have encountered charities in areas across all of Wales who do an incredible job supporting those with lived experience to have a voice, and we have also found Welsh Government to be genuinely interested in hearing those voices, once you get through the haze of bureaucracy.

But the Forum has also had to look at its own process and they have started to explore how to engage and recruit people to support or be part of the Forum, in an equitable manner. The Forum is aware of the lack of diversity amongst their membership and there is a significant issue in the huge inconsistency in representation across the country.

To tackle the workload that the Forum’s ambition has created, they have had to look at how they work. Whether that involves more annual meetings or using working groups to explore key areas, there is a lot of work being done and there is a need to share this load. These wider issues do not have a quick fix and often the challenge for those with lived experience and carers, is having to give of their time and expertise for free. We know that the issues around renumeration are varied across the sector, but again we are confident that we can find a solution.

Communication will also continue to be a challenge as we are working with a range of individuals from all areas in Wales, with a wide range of communication needs. This is important both internally and externally and as we head into year 2, the Forum will start to focus on some of these key areas and how they can increase their communication online and with wider stakeholders. The Forum is a place where the voice of; those with lived experience, those in receipt of support, service users, friends, families, support givers, carers; however people identify, where individuals can come together and be empowered to make a real difference.

These challenges which we have identified with the Forum, have helped to shape our agenda as we move into year 2. But as we start to see the positive impact that the forum has and will continue to make, it helps us realise that we have only just started and look forward to the successes of the next year.

Danny Antebi, Project Lead, Practice Solutions.