New bid to improve health issues in 'struggling' Harrogate District

A new network of organisations to improve Harrogate's health and wellbeing has met for the first time.
A new network of organisations to improve Harrogate's health and wellbeing has met for the first time.

A new networking group to help the Harrogate District improve its mental health and wellbeing provision has met for the first time.

The first meeting of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Network saw representatives from statutory services such as North Yorkshire County Council and the Clinical Commissioning Group meet with voluntary care organisations from across the District.

The Network has been set up following calls by one woman in particular, to replace and improve on the “disbanded” Harrogate Health and Wellbeing Forum.

Service User Involvement Worker at NYCC, Wendy Clark, said: “Statutory services already get that forum for two way conversations.

“I work alongside organisations such as Tees Esk and Wear Valley, which is the statutory provider of mental health services for the whole of North Yorkshire and the North of England, and the CCG.”

Wendy explained that the new Network had been triggered by the calls of one woman in particular, a service user, who felt it was vital to get voluntary and statutory organisations talking to each other again.

The service user, who wishes to remain nameless, said: “We are struggling in Harrogate with a lot of problems both in mental health and in general health and wellbeing as well.

“We have a high percentage of obesity in kids, there are concerns about the future of the mental health unit, there’s a high level of drinking in women - a whole host of unhealthy lifestyles.”

Explaining that many statutory services follow patient criteria “up to the letter”, she highlighted that many are left reliant on voluntary services.

She said: “There are so many people that I look at and I think what is happening to you.

“If you don’t fit in a box and you don’t come with a budget then no one is interested in you.

“There are some very vulnerable people.”

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With the support of Wendy and other colleagues from NYCC, the woman set about organising the first meeting of the network, which took place in May.

She said: “I thought it was very important when we had this first meeting to make the access to coming as wide as possible and for those who are involved to lead it.

“I see myself as being more of a facilitator for this.”

The first meeting saw representatives from various organisations including Mind, Just B Bereavement, The Orb, Wellspring, Community First Yorkshire and North Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner attend.

Wendy explained that the previous forum had disbanded due to a lack of funding and suitable venue, but said they were not ‘insurmountable problems’ going forward.

She said: “There’s always been strategies and things going on - North Yorkshire County Council has it’s own mental health strategy but it’s important that people have a voice to be able to feed up these things and it’s important to statutory services as well to have a communication point where they can compare the majority of people who are involved with mental health services.

“Only one in 10 people with mental health illnesses are using statutory services, the rest are in contact with some kind of voluntary organisation.”

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Now organisers are looking into governance arrangements for the group and are hoping to meet again in September.

But Wendy explained the Network will have to carry itself forward by being proactive.

She said: “It’s not just to be a talking shop for people to turn up to, they have to take part in an active way and bring something to the room. NYCC are very keen to see it succeed.”

Also keen to see the benefit is Emily Fullarton, the Director of Starbeck-based counselling and mental health training service, Wellspring.

Emily said: “We know it is helpful because the previous forum meant that the third sector knew what was going on and we could get updates.

“Fortunately third sector organisations, like Wellspring and St Michael’s Hospice, are already very good at listening to their service users.

“In my opinion it is the statutory services that need to get better at listening to feedback.”

But Emily added: “It’s a great platform for people to meet and it’s a step in the right direction.

“We think it’s fantastic that service users are being heard and having their voices listened to, because they have been through it and it’s great for them to lead the way.

“What matters is the infrastructure that comes behind it and how it helps to shape positive changes.”

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