In my role at the Centre of Excellence, I often find myself trying to explain what we mean by ‘the cultural barriers to information sharing’, and I usually end up saying ‘it’s the people stuff’. After all, it is people (rather than IT systems or procedures) that actually manage and carry out information sharing, and the services that it supports.
Meeting those inspiring people whose leadership skills and ability to build positive relationships actually make information sharing happen, is one of the things I love most about my job. People who champion the benefits of sharing for service users and staff alike, inspiring others around them as a result.
One of these people is Jerry Bedford. Jerry is part of the adult mental health team in Margate, Kent, but works one day a week within the offices of the Margate Task Force (MTF) providing additional support when required – for example to carry out a joint home visit with other agencies.
A lot of Jerry’s work involves sharing information between the mental health services and local partners in the Police and Job Centre Plus (both of whom are also part of the MTF). Sharing information in this way is helping these services to better understand the needs of the people they encounter, and provide a more co-ordinated response.
Jerry tells me about how this works in practice and the benefits he’s seen from this integrated way of working: “When the Police asked for help with 999 frequent callers, I was able to identify if any of the small group of callers identified were known to the mental health services by cross referencing with the mental health records system (Rio). Where the person was known to the service, I was able to share this information with Police colleagues and the person’s Care Co-ordinator so they could take this on board, both when planning and carrying out the planned home visit (to speak to them about their 999 calls), and in any ongoing support or monitoring.
“Sharing information in this way, I was able to arrange for a support worker to be at home with their client with a known personality disorder at the time of one of these ‘frequent callers’ visits. This meant that the women was supported both during and after the visit, helping ensure her safety and making it possible for the Police to have an effective conversation with her about her calls to 999 (which have now ceased).
“By attending home visits with a Police colleague, I can also identify mental health needs in people not previously known to the mental health team, and with their consent share this information with relevant providers to get them the help they need. Examples of this have included identifying that a person making calls to 999 was suffering from dementia and signposting them and their family to the relevant support services, and being able to assess people as having mental health issues and referring them to their GP for support.”
The exchange of information which has supported these home visits is continuing to help provide more co-ordinated support for local people, as the Police have now updated their records to take account of the information shared and the findings from the visits. As a result, if a person known to have mental health needs is flagged up again as calling 999, a Police officer can contact Jerry straight away so the individual will get more appropriate support, quicker.
Jerry also provides signposting help to colleagues from the local Job Centre Plus. Letting them know if a client they are concerned about is already receiving mental health support. Jerry explains, “If the Job Centre Plus staff are concerned about someone who isn’t known to the mental health service, I’ll arrange a joint visit to conduct an initial mental health assessment of that person. If the person is receiving support from the mental health team, I can share the contact details for the person’s care coordinator, and facilitate an introduction between them and the Job Centre staff.”
Sharing intelligence in this way is helping provide a speedier and more co-ordinated response to people’s needs, as the Job Centre staff are able to quickly speak to, and work with, the right person in the mental health team to work together on a joined-up package of support. The logs of these conversations between adult mental health services, the local Job Centre Plus, and Police, kept on ‘Rio’ system used by the mental health team, also help as they form part of the person’s notes and can be accessed by other people involved in their care.
Jerry’s work with the MTF grew out of his work on mentally disordered offenders (MDOs) with the local Police force. It was through this work that he met Inspector Mark Pearson who, inspired by Jerry’s enthusiasm for joint working and information sharing, invited him to join the task force. When Jerry first started this work, the Police were seen as a bit arms-length and aloof, but over time and with proactive approaches to joint working and sharing information, attitudes have changed and relationships are now much closer.
Reflecting on his own information sharing journey since then, Jerry describes how being physically sat next to people from different agencies really plays a key role in supporting information sharing, “It opens up doors for professionals to better understand each other’s ways of working and resource pressures, to discover shared objectives, and develop joint approaches to achieve them. Whether it’s being co-located in the same office as the rest of the task force, or sitting next to other professionals in a multi-agency neighbourhood responsibility panel meeting responding to a local persons concerns and needs. I feel this physical proximity helps change perceptions and build the trusting relationships needed for information sharing in a way which phone calls alone just can’t.”
Jerry’s commitment to building relationships and supporting information sharing through face to face contact, has led to the creation of a monthly Police clinic at the Beacon (local mental health centre), which gives an opportunity for any of the mental health staff who have concerns about a client (of a forensic nature) to talk to the Police about it. This new approach has generated positive feedback from Jerry’s colleagues who feel it is giving them a way to challenge and change their perceptions of the Police (and what they do) by meeting with each other, and putting a friendly face to what before was just a name or an organisation. After all, it’s all about the people.
If like Jerry, you’ve got some inspiring examples of information sharing between mental health services, the Police and other local agencies, and how this is making a real difference to the way local people are supported, we’d love to hear about your experiences. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or join the conversation on twitter using #infosharing.
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