On 28 February we had the opportunity to attend the community mental health transformation event. The event was organised by Black Country Healthcare and open to NHS staff, partner colleagues, community organisations and groups, service users, carers, members of the public.
Black Country Healthcare are in their third year of their transformation journey and are looking at working in partnership with other organisations. During the event we were updated on the transformation journey so far and also had the opportunity to share ideas and get involved.
To find out more about the community mental health transformation, visit Community mental health transformation :: Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
We had the opportunity to meet with the Refugee and Migrants Centre in Wolverhampton who assist refugees and migrants through crisis and disadvantage. They remove barriers to their integration and enable them to become equal citizens.
Refugees are more likely to experience health problems, dental issues and ill mental health. However, during our last visit to the RMC, it was brought to our attention that many refugees struggled to access Primary Care services, as a result our commissioners raised concerns with the relevant practice managers.
Some issues are still evident, including consistent use of interpreting services, both face to face and over the telephone and also booking of appointments. This is being escalated further.
We also discussed further reasonable adjustments that could be made when accessing Primary Care services. Refugees would benefit from being able to walk-in to their practice to book an appointment - the telephone system is difficult to navigate in another language. We are aware that many GP practices open at 9am, after all available appointments have been taken, therefore a designated 'accessible practice' for refugees may be an appropriate solution.
Double appointments would also be beneficial, as they would enable time for understanding and overcoming the language barrier, to ensure the correct diagnosis and treatment. This would also help when explaining prescriptions, as it is common these are no-read leading people to take their medication wrong, making it ineffective or potentially dangerous.
We will continue to use feedback provided to write good practice guides for reasonable adjustments within primary care.
During February, we launched the project with the following partners:
- Wolverhampton University
- Aspiring Futures – award winning enterprise that supports and inspires women to have the confidence, skills and courage to follow their aspirations.
- THIA CIC - a wellbeing and support organisation
- Plasma of Hope – a charity based in Walsall that helps people living with sickle call disease and thalassemia.
- One Walsall – a partnership of several organisations across Walsall
- Rose Tinted – organisation that provides financial services support
- White House Cancer Support – charity based in Dudley
Whilst at the launch, we learnt that Black African and Caribbean women have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, however, are less likely to go for screening. It is important that we are aware of the barriers so we can help to reduce this health inequality. We are aware that not all people may respond to awareness campaigns, but instead are more likely to listen to people they know. As a result, we will reach out through trusted voices to better understand the extent of the problem and take a solution-based approach to the project.
“We are pleased to be a part of this project, and to help our local communities. This project embodies co-production and has great potential - all work implemented will be used as a blueprint for future work with cancer.” Said Marie-Claire who attended the launch.
On 14 February we showed our support to local healthcare professionals by attending the ‘Have a Heart Day’ event, organised by Dudley Integrated Health and Care NHS Trust, University of Birmingham, and Brook Sexual Health.
‘Have a Heart Day’ focused on community health awareness and was hosted by pharmacists, pharmacy students, and sexual health professionals that were on hand to provide access to important health information and resources.
Those who attended were encouraged to visit their local pharmacist for their ailments, as well as to get their blood pressure checked. As a result of this, during the event, the teams did 120 free blood pressure checks, and any blood pressure readings outside of the normal range was referred for follow up to the patient’s GP.
We will continue to promote our 'pharmacy first' scheme and the pharmacy offer, to ensure that our local people are utilising available healthcare services.
To find out more about the pharmacy offer and your local pharmacist, visit Your local pharmacy :: Black Country ICB
We had the pleasure of meeting with James, a member of the team from Just Straight Talk – he informed us that people living with the negative effects of alcohol may find it difficult to access help available, particularly getting an appointment with their GP if it means they are required to phone their practice at 8am.
In response to this, we went on to discuss Just Straight Talk’s new project: Full Circle. The project supports people in Dudley aged 23+ whose alcohol intake is negatively impacting their lives.
James noted that once these groups had been established, we would be welcome to meet with attendees to get their thoughts and opinions on healthcare services. We are looking forward to meeting with the groups, and any feedback will be shared amongst our engagement specialists to ensure we explore ways to tackle health inequalities.
On 6 February, we had the pleasure of meeting with The Black Sisters Consortium in Walsall. They are a voluntary group who have been active in the community for 30 years.
The Black Sisters Consortium receive referrals from partner organisations and offer self-referrals to help women. With funding from Walsall Council, the consortium provides:
- Befriending Services
- Women’s mental health and friendship group
- Food parcels
- Days out and activity days
- Coffee mornings
- Advice and guidance - as Walsall Council drop-in service has now closed, they receive funding to help people with applying and completing forms on behalf of the Council.
The Black Sisters Consortium are also hosting a health and wellbeing event in August 2023 and have invited the ICB to have a stall.
It was fantastic to have a conversation with the organisation to find out how they are supporting people and how we can get involved in hearing the voices of local people that may be experiencing health inequalities. Overall, the meeting was a very positive experience, we were pleased to see the impact of how the group work together to meet the needs of the local community.
We had the pleasure of attending a health and wellbeing event at Manor Farm Community Association on 3 February 2023. The event provided us with an opportunity to network with a range of different organisations who contribute to improving the lives of local people.
Our involvement colleague, Natalie, spoke to different organisations about topics which impact on mental wellbeing, and received information and guidance in relation to patients accessing well-being support. The organisations in attendance included: Mettaminds, Places of Welcome, Admiral Nurses, Bloxwich Community Partnership, Healthwatch Walsall, Rethink and Walsall Bereavement Service.
The event was very insightful – we were able to learn more about services offered by Bloxwich Community Partnership, such as warm hubs, coffee mornings and wellbeing buses. We also made a new contact at Walsall Rethink and arranged a visit to look at working together and visiting some of their groups in the future. In addition, we discovered more information about Walsall Bereavement Service which Natalie has shared with our other involvement specialists.
Mettaminds shared that they had been promoting our Time2Talk service with their service users, after they had learned more about the service during a previous discussion with us. We are pleased to hear that local people are utilising our services and Time2Talk will continue to offer support and guidance to help better improve people’s experiences of health services.
On 3 February, we visited The Snuggery in Walsall, a café style hub/meeting place in the town centre. The Snuggery, opened in December 2022 and is a self-funded initiative set up in an old shop premise.
The hub is run by volunteers and is aimed at providing support for people with mental health problems, learning disabilities, the elderly, or anyone who would like to visit The Snuggery for a coffee and a chat.
Several people who support the service have learning disabilities themselves and choose to stay at the centre for company, as well as volunteer. One of the volunteers discussed ideas for funding at The Snuggery – they are currently selling secondhand items, which are donated to the centre, as they would like to have some renovation work done to create a kitchen and seating area.
The Snuggery have created digital hub for people who do not have access to a digital device or the internet. Our involvement colleagues signposted volunteers managing the hub to our Black Country Connected project and will send further details via email for them to contact the project lead directly.
Our visit was a very positive experience as we were able to see the impact of initiatives which aim to support those most vulnerable in our communities. We will continue to share healthcare information with The Snuggery to enable them to support those who attend their hubs.
Following our initial visit on 5 January, we had a virtual zoom meeting with Zebra access on 2 February.
Set up in 2005, Zebra Access is a charity who help and assist people in the Black Country with hearing loss, both adults and children. They are based in Wolverhampton and many staff members who work for the organisation are also deaf - they offer a befriending service, help, support, BSL training, deaf awareness training, advocacy, and day trips
During our meeting, it was brought to our attention that many people with hearing loss experiencing difficulties accessing healthcare and that there is limited access to interpreters at GP surgeries. A member of staff from Zebra Access disclosed how she previously had to take time off work to attend an in-person GP appointment, as the practice would not book an appointment after she finished work due to translators being more expensive from 5.00 pm onwards. Another common theme was that GPs and consultants should allow more time for appointments with deaf people – if there is a translator in the room, it may take longer for the patient to understand all that is being translated.
In addition to this, there is an 18-month delay on the patient pathway for people with hearing loss being referred by a GP to IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies).
We have informed our Time2Talk Team of the issues raised during our meeting, and we are also liaising with specialists in Wolverhampton to arrange visits to Zebra Access so the appropriate help and support can be provided. We have shared our learning and discussions with Walsall Together, Walsall Public Health, IAPT Team at Black Country Healthcare Trust and Walsall Healthcare who will all use any information provided to better understand the importance of these issues for local people.
In January we started our ICB Board Meeting with this ‘Feet on the Street’ video. These regular videos are a result of the Involvement team’s community conversations, which bring the views of the communities which we serve into the Board meeting to both provide context and to set the tone for the meeting. The Board were keen to explore the topic of social isolation and certainly started the discussion on this.
The video focussed on the impact of loneliness on health and wellbeing, highlighting the positive work of social prescribing projects in dealing with isolation. Following the video, our Director of Involvement, Laura Broster highlighted the strong message that had come across from participants about their desire to retain their independence and the significant impact that loneliness had on being able to do so. It was recognised how important it is to consider these issues in service planning, recognising that this could be an unintended consequence of things such as moves to increase digital solutions for access. Laura concluded the introduction by recognising the impact of services such as social prescribing, the valuable contribution of third sector organisations and the opportunity for the statutory organisations in the system to build connections with communities through these organisations.
Sarah Taylor, as our Community and Voluntary Sector Partner representative, gave some further examples of the impact of social prescribing services on individual patients, including in avoiding hospital admissions. She also highlighted the challenges faced by the sector in managing funding, which was often provided on a short term basis which led to organisations in the sector effectively competing for funding rather than working together as a driver for change.
John Denley, Director of Public Health in Wolverhampton, commented on the importance of commissioning organisations considering how to create the conditions for success for services. He highlighted the approach taken by City of Wolverhampton Council in commissioning 0-19 services, awarding a ten year contract to provide stability for the staff involved and ensure the service was able a longer term approach to improving outcomes.
During the discussion, Board members commented on the value that genuine system working could offer in building closer links with community groups recognising that this would require a focus on longer term outcomes. It was noted that this would require a shift in approach, including supporting clinicians in making relevant contacts but that there were clear benefits in doing so, with examples quoted from other parts of the world of the value in terms of increased quality of life. Examples were quoted of work across the system, including through Primary Care, the ambulance service and other agencies designed to target loneliness and it was noted that there was a link between loneliness and deprivation and work should continue to be targeted. The Board suggested that further work should be undertaken to ensure the ICB’s approach to working with the third sector was as effective as possible and it was agreed that the Strategic Commissioning Committee should review and make any recommendations as appropriate.
We couldn’t have this level of debate and discussion if it wasn’t for local people and groups sharing their stories and experiences with us. I big thank you to all that did, especially to Joyce for being so open on camera.
Moving forwards, our organisation will ensure that our joint forward plan creates the opportunity to explore new ways of working to protect our thriving community and voluntary sector, recognising the role that they play in connecting people to their neighbourhoods and reducing loneliness. At the next Board meeting, we will hear views on pharmacy, dental and ophthalmic services in readiness for us taking on delegated responsibility for planning and buying these services from April 2023.
Warm spaces have been launched throughout the Black Country to help residents beat the chill this winter because of energy prices and the cost-of-living crisis.
Our involvement team have been attending warm spaces across the Black Country, having community conservations, promoting the Joint Forward Plan survey, and supporting as many people as possible to complete and share the survey.
In Wolverhampton, we have delivered drop-in sessions to; Bilston Library, Penn Library, Warstones Library, Whitmore Reans Library, Ashmore Park Community Hub, Bob Jones Community Hub, Tettenhall Library and Wednesfield Library.
For more information on warm spaces across the Black Country visit:
Dudley: Winter wellbeing | Dudley Council
Sandwell: Cost of Living Help | Sandwell Council
Walsall: Help with the cost of living | Walsall Council
Wolverhampton: Warm Spaces | City Of Wolverhampton Council
On 27 January, we attended Bloxwich Community Library. Bloxwich Library offer a variety of groups which take place at the library. During our visit, our involvement colleague Natalie spoke to the following groups:
- Digital IT teacher and students learning computer skills
- Moms and Toddlers group
- Knit and Natter group
- Dance class led by Brownhills Community Partnership
- Library staff said that they also have a variety of other groups meeting during the week.
Many people noted that they attend the library as a way of meeting and talking with new people – it was brought to our attention that libraries are a good way to bring communities together to help with isolation. Two group members discussed how they live in Willenhall but attend Bloxwich Library as it is a lot more friendly there – they attend for company as people talk to them and they look forward to going.
It was a very insightful visit and through our discussions we recognised the importance of these community groups and how they better improve the lives of our local people. All feedback and information gathered will be shared amongst our networks and with other ICB Involvement Specialists, this will allow us to attend and understand the positive impacts community libraries have in each of our four place bases.
On 24 January, we attended the Dudley Social Prescribing Share and Connect meeting. We had the opportunity to meet Social Prescribing Link Workers that support those aged 16 and over who frequently visit their GP, who are at high risk of hospital admission and/or who are vulnerable and could benefit from social prescribing interventions.
We conducted a conversation about the cost-of-living and how it is affecting people right now. We heard that the cost-of-living crisis is causing many people to make difficult decisions such as feeding themselves and their families or putting on the heating. I was brought to our attention that there also seems to be an increase in mental health issues amongst the local community, and with the pressures on the health system, people are unable to be moved on to additional services for support and as a result are continuing with link worker support, which is putting pressure on the service.
In response to the thoughts and experiences provided, we had the opportunity to share key health messages / signposting, including the NHS Joint Forward Plan survey, 24-7 Black Country Mental Health Helpline, your health page on ICB website, NHS 111 service (now online), Pharmacy First, Black Country Connected and Time 2 Talk team.
On 24 January, Anna, a member of our involvement team met with ‘Aspiring Futures’ in Wolverhampton. ‘Aspiring Futures’ is an award-winning women-led social enterprise inspiring women to have the confidence, skills, and courage to follow their aspirations. Each year they help over 500 women in Wolverhampton to aspire for better through improved confidence, wellbeing, and qualifications. They offer a counselling and befriending service supporting women and children.
We met with a group of women taking an ESOL class, to learn English as a second language and discussed their experiences with the NHS, a common theme amongst the group was difficulty accessing GP appointments, and a number of participants voiced their frustrations in regard to this. One attendee spoke of her health condition which began 8 years ago - since moving here 4 years ago she has been unable to see a GP for treatment. Several women described calling daily for a GP appointment, only to give up after weeks of being unsuccessful, having the health issue improve independently or leaving it untreated. In addition to this, due to lack of translators, many GP appointments are regularly cancelled.
Moving forward all information and feedback gathered will be shared with other ICB Involvement Specialists, we will also feed back to the Senior Management Team in primary care so that possible improvements can be discussed, and commissioners can look into these issues further.
On 19 January, we revisited ‘Places of Welcome’ at St Martin’s Church in Walsall – a Place of Welcome is a place where anybody can go, where they know they will be warmly welcomed, receive free refreshments and a guarantee of being made to feel valued and included. Attending a Place of Welcome can help with confidence and improving physical and mental wellbeing. There was a variety of sessions taking place whilst we were there, this included: morning prayer, a flower arranging class and a bereavement club.
We had the opportunity to speak with local people about topics such as mental health, dentistry and cataract operations. Positive experiences we shared in relation to cataract operations and dental treatment, and we recorded this footage to use as part of our Feet on the Street campaign. We also discussed financial and housing struggles with another group member – they disclosed how this had been significantly impacting their mental health and wellbeing.
It was very busy during our visit to St Martin’s Church, and all were eager to talk to our involvement colleague, Natalie. Many people noted that they wanted to gain further knowledge and understanding of healthcare services and were interested to hear about the Walsall People Panel and wanted to take part to help the NHS.
We have informed our Time2Talk Team of the services provided by ‘Places of Welcome’ and have advised them to promote the group moving forward. In response to all feedback gathered, as an ICB, we will use any information provided to better understand the importance of these issues for local people.
We had the opportunity to sit in on a friendship group at Streetly Community Library. Streetly Library is part of a network of 16 libraries across the borough of Walsall and offers a range of services such book loans, video rentals and internet access - they also have a TV screen which lists all of their activities throughout the week.
Whilst at the library, we spoke with various members of staff, volunteers, and participants of the group and discussed patient experiences in relation to healthcare. There was a reoccurring theme of hospital appointments, in particular the limited availability and varying wait times. We also heard positive stories from group members living in care homes and how they were pleased with the support provided.
We learnt that the activities organised by Streetly Community Library have acted as a safe space for the local community, providing company and allowing members to engage with one another to tackle possible feelings of loneliness. It was a very insightful experience, seeing the impact of recreational activities and the effect that they can have on a person’s wellbeing.
We had the opportunity to visit the friendship group running at Ashmore Park Community Hub. The small community group encourages people to reach out and make friends, combatting loneliness and isolation. During our visit members kindly took part in the Joint Forward Plan Survey and discussed their experiences with the NHS.
There was great praise for the NHS within the local community, particularly in Ashmore, including general practices and dentists. However, all agreed that when calling their GP surgery for a doctor's appointment, more often than not they are redirected and booked in with a nurse who cannot always see to their needs. As a result, many patients end up booking an additional appointment with the GP, which they deemed a waste of time and of NHS resources.
The community hub was eager to invite us to future events – we will be arranging other visits with additional ICB involvement colleagues, so that the group can have their say and be provided with a better understanding of the NHS system(s).
Overall, the hub was very welcoming, and it was great to see great to see a group bringing the community together - they offer a wide range of community activities, classes, library, gym and a café. Find out more here: What's On in Ashmore Park, Wednesfield, Wolverhampton, Walsall | The Hub at Ashmore Park (the-hub.info)
We had the pleasure of meeting with the manager of ConGens, a group dedicated to improving the lives of older people. ConGens a local service provider and registered charity which aims to deliver events and activities such as:
- Outings to places of interest
- Exercise classes
- Computer and I.T tutor classes
- Sports events
- Social dances
- Cooking projects
- Other events can be facilitated.
Their users have an opportunity to interact with one another and enjoy new experiences that promote health and wellbeing. ConGens also deliver a number of intergenerational projects which enables the group to bring young and older people to increase respect and build mutual understandings.
ConGens have held several conversations with people in their groups about their experiences, thoughts and feelings on health and care services. The feedback reflects that reports in the media are worse than their own experiences. One suggestion was that a better triaging system is needed at GP level, which would avoid extra appointments, improving the experience and reduce delays. Another suggestion was the need for GPs to advise more on lifestyle changes around exercise and diet to improve health, in particular with conditions affected.
In this article by the Wolverhampton Voluntary & Community Association (WVCA), Ian the Coordinator for ConGens gives an insight into their organisation: Voluntary Sector Focus: Ian Peddie, Volunteer Project Coordinator, ConGens - Wolverhampton Voluntary Sector Council (wolverhamptonvsc.org.uk)
We had the pleasure of attending a community event at St Thomas’ Church in Mossley, Walsall on 17 January 2023. The event was organised by ‘Homestart’ – an organisation offering befriending support along with practical and emotional advice to the homes of families who are having difficulties managing parenting for a variety of different reasons. Home-Start Walsall has been providing family support through volunteer home-visiting, groups, and events in our local community since 1999.
Our involvement colleague, Natalie, spoke to 12 members of the public who were taking part in a mother and toddler group, with many agreeing that the group provided vital support and development for children and their mother’s/parents. There was a strong sense of community amongst the group as we discovered that many mothers were not from the local area, instead opting to walk for miles to attend the group.
Through our discussions we recognised the importance of these community groups and how they better improve the lives of our local people. We will take these experiences and services into consideration when shaping our Joint Forward Plan, so we can help support our local area and communities to develop.
On 13 January 2023 we attended a community group at Brownhills Library in Walsall. The Community Library is based next to a park, in a new building along with a GP practice, and offers a range of services in addition to being a library – for example it is currently a warm hub, a place where you can drop in, get warm and meet others.
Natalie, a member of our involvement team, sat in on a ‘Friendship Group’ which is a group of people who come together to chat over coffee and biscuits. During her visit she took part in conversations with 10 different community members about Primary Care, access to healthcare and repeat prescriptions.
It was brought to our attention that several people had difficulty accessing repeat prescriptions as well as face-to-face appointments with their GP, particularly those with visual impairments. One group member mentioned how her GP will not issue an appropriate prescription for her eye drops, whereas another discussed how he cannot access his GP appointments without the assistance of his family.
In response to the feedback, we have contacted our Time to Talk Team and advised that they send out leaflets to the library to help inform community members of who is best to contact when sharing concerns and experiences. As an ICB, we will use any information provided to better understand the importance of these issues for local people.
Good Shepherd is charity supporting homeless people through outreach support, offering meals, a foodbank, and a range of groups to support community wellbeing. Good Shepherd have been working with social prescribers to offer therapeutic art classes, which are well attended and held in high regard.
During our visit, it was brought to our attention that funding is a huge barrier for the charity – their current funding is ending very soon, therefore they are keen to be considered for any relevant commissioning opportunities. Our involvement team will link in with our local commissioners to ensure Good Shepherd get the help and support they need to carry on their work within the local area.
We were also informed that many homeless people are digitally excluded, which creates a barrier to making positive changes in their lives, including accessing appointments, looking and applying for jobs and staying connected socially. In response to this, our involvement team have contacted Black Country Connected (a programme that loans residents in the Black Country a Geobook Laptop and helps with accessibility online) to arrange a digital inclusion workshop at Good Shepherd.
We will continue to meet with their peer support group, to see what difference we can make within the local community.
They are looking for volunteers, so if you are interested, please visit their website: Homepage - Good Shepherd Wolverhampton (gsmwolverhampton.org.uk)
On 9 January 2023, we met with community group ‘The Friends of Willenhall Park’ during one of their walks around the park and coffee meets – the group run three walks a week for mixed abilities. The Friends of Willenhall Memorial Park operate from the Pavilion in the park, inside a newly built mini community center and offer a varied programme of events and activities throughout the year. The new building consists of a small community room as well as an allotment/greenhouse.
Our involvement colleague Natalie spoke to a number of participants from the local community, discussing topics such as isolation and mental health in relation to social activities. Many people noted that they attend the community group as a means of talking to people and getting out of the house, which has a positive impact on their mental wellbeing. One member suffers from a long-term condition and spoke of how the activities provided by the center contributed to their ‘good days’, whereas another member who is recently retired mentioned that they attend the group to connect with others and tackle feelings of loneliness, as their Husband plays a lot of tennis and is away at competitions.
Joy, the coordinator at Friends of Willenhall Park, said that she has contacted local GPs to promote the activities on offer – she has given social prescribers details of the groups to pass onto patients.
All information and feedback gathered will be shared with other ICB Involvement Specialists and will contribute to our Joint Forward Plan, ensuring the voices and experiences of local people and communities are heard.
Zebra Access is a deaf charity, dedicated to helping people who are deaf or hard of hearing to have self-belief and confidence to achieve their aspirations by breaking down barriers. They provide services to support deaf/hard of hearing individuals along with a variety of events, clubs and activities. They also deliver Deaf Awareness and BSL training to organisations and individuals who work with Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities and individuals.
We had the pleasure of meeting with Zebra Access to discuss their experiences of the NHS and how we can work together to overcome challenges and improve access to health for the deaf community. Whilst talking amongst the group there was a general consensus that communication techniques used within the NHS makes accessing healthcare services difficult for the deaf community, this includes booking appointments, communicating with healthcare staff, accessing hospitals and discharge information. Certain members advised us that they would benefit from translation services and BSL translators at People Panel – we will be contacting commissioners to address this further. Our involvement team will also be meeting with the ICB digital team to begin conversations around digital workshops and Geobooks to help with accessibility online.
Moving forward, we will continue to work closely with Zebra Access and will keep conversations going to understand how the NHS can evolve and support the different communities we serve.
To find out more about Zebra visit their website: Zebra Access (zebra-access.com)