Councillor Paulette Hamilton
My role as Mental Health Champion for Birmingham City Council
My name is Councillor Paulette Hamilton. I have been a Councillor in the Handsworth Wood ward since April 2004. My background is in Healthcare and I have been a practising nurse for over twenty years.
When the role of Mental Health Champion was offered to me in June 2013, I was truly apprehensive. The Council had not created a role of this kind before, and I was the first to be asked to undertake it. This meant I would be a ‘trail blazer’.
I had a passion for the area of mental health for family reasons, but when the Cabinet Member asked me to Chair the Police and Crime Commission Conference in June 2013, it was still a steep learning curve, because of the sensitive nature of the issues being tackled.
Following a period of meetings and some training from the Mental Health Trust (I undertook the revolving door training), the role was then formally announced in October 2013.
At that time, I had no idea we had other Champions around the Country. I knew I needed to set clear boundaries, but had no idea what these boundaries should be.
I decided, after a number of meetings and events relating to people living with mental health issues, that I could not do everything, and more than ever needed to be clear about my remit.
Another major issue was the size of Birmingham which is the largest Metropolitan Council in Europe with over 1.1 million people.
After speaking to large numbers of people, these were the key messages being received;
- Birmingham is a super diverse City, with issues relating to mental health on the increase.
- Users of the service felt they were not being heard. It was clear that mental health was being stigmatised which isolated many people who lived with mental health problems.
- Third Sector Organisations were saying they did not feel included, but ‘used’ by larger organisations to assist with their funding targets.
- Partners were struggling to work together at a strategic level, mainly because of organisational priorities. This meant many targets were not being truly met at that time. Birmingham had issues with transitional mental health services for young people. They had no recognised services at all for sixteen to seventeen year olds; they simply fell through the gaps.
At this point I was told about Mental Health Challenge. In December 2013, I went along to the first meeting in London and met some fantastic people. Birmingham became one of the first fifteen Councils to be signed up to this initiative. This then gave me the outside support I needed to assist me resetting boundaries and to know the right questions to start asking Leaders, and Commissioners and how to really support Third Sector organisations.
Over the last year I have really focussed on three things;
1. To work at a strategic level with all the partners and look at how we can work in a more joined up way.
2. I have been involved with a number of projects. An example of this is the work done with ‘Time for Change 300 Voices’. Research has shown that people from BME communities are less served by mental health services and partner agencies in comparison to other groups. With this in Mind Birmingham City Council joined with partner agencies to engage 300 young African and Caribbean men with experience of in-patient care when they were aged between 18 and 25. Also 900 staff from across partner agencies, to ultimately improve service user experience. Birmingham City Council engaged Approved Mental Health Professionals, Social Workers and Councillors from across all political parties, in this piece of work. This proved challenging, thought provoking, but very successful.
3. Influencing the commissioning process is vital to what I am doing. Birmingham City Council’s Commissions Services, on behalf of the three Clinical Commissioning Groups. The Council have developed structures to not just act as Governors, but to ensure they are inclusive. In this new world of forever reducing budgets, Birmingham City Council needed to remain transparent at all times. Birmingham also needed to ensure that any services commissioned would not only have clinical input, but also service user and Third Sector input.
- I became the Chair of the Third Sector Partnership Board, which purely looked at mental health issues, working with Third Sector Partners, and helping to set the direction in which the service needed to go.
- The City does have GP leads that have involvement throughout the process, which is vital.
- A very strong Joint Commissioning team which sits within the City Council.
- Joint working with Third Sector Partners, statutory partners, Clinical Care Groups and the Council, on emerging issues.
- Continued strengthening of linkages into the NHS, with Politicians, Police and Crime Commission Service and the Police Force.
Birmingham City Council developed a Board to look at the commissioning of services across both mental health and learning disability, which I am a member. This enabled me to feed into the process. I am able to take the concerns of organisations and users who I speak to on a regular basis from the Partnership Board meeting and community activity to the Integrated Commissioning Board meetings on a bi-monthly basis.
This is a fantastic role, which I believe was overdue. I have really enjoyed the challenges of my first year in this role, and my aim is to ensure that in time, this role will be fully embedded into all Councils and statutory bodies throughout the country.
I also recognised that my relationship with many service users and Third Sector partners on a day to day basis would put me in a fantastic position to effect changes at a strategic level to improve service provision.
If you would like any further information, you can contact me on 0121 303 2039 or via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or the Commissioning Team on 0121 675 6982 or via email: Baljit.email@example.com
0121 303 2039