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Video: Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust talk digital programmes

As part of our HTN Now April 2021 event, we heard from the Greater Manchester Mental Health (GMMH) Trust about its digital programmes and strategy.

Grace Birch, Associate Director of Information, Management & Technology (IM&T) and Data Protection Officer at GMMH, took the time to present an in-depth webinar stuffed full of learnings and innovative ideas.

As well as hearing about past and current programmes, Grace also told us what’s still in-store for the trust over the remainder of 2021.

“We’re a large specialist mental health provider – one of the largest in the country,” explained Grace. “We cover local services, specialist, substance misuse and we cover a large prison population.”

After illustrating the geographies that the trust’s provision covers – which currently temporarily extends beyond Greater Manchester to Cumbria, until September 2021 – she added: “We’ve got roughly six-and-a-half thousand members of staff…we are very much focused on research and we’re very proud of our Recovery Academy that helps service users and the wider public to take part in education and learn new skills.”

Speaking of the trust’s existing digital strategy, Grace commented: “Developed prior to COVID-19 – who knew at the time? – we focused on five clear ambitions. [We] focused on making sure we could improve the experience of our service users and their carers, so that they could really engage in their treatment and their pathways and that we were doing all that we could to support them through that; that we were absolutely joined-up across Greater Manchester and beyond; that we had the right integration solutions but we weren’t repeating what we needed to do; making sure that we were really supporting our workforce – there’s absolutely no point whatsoever in having a lot of digital technology around if none of the staff can utilise that.”

“With hindsight,” Grace revealed, “we were actually quite smart…[we] focused on year one and really tried to articulate what we were going to achieve during that year. We were a little bit lighter on the objectives for years two and three…[we] left it light in terms of actual deliverables, so that we were able to flex and bend as new objectives came out nationally and new priorities were emerging. And, actually, year two was COVID. So maybe it wasn’t the worst thing to do in the first place.”

After covering a little bit about IM&T’s current status – including adoption of Microsoft technology and how their unified approach allows for more agile working, Grace went on to discuss digital change during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As well as rolling out Microsoft Teams to staff in just 12 weeks, there was an array of examples and learnings – ranging from virtual consultations to app development, booking solutions, virtual smart cards and increased use of mobile devices, plus EPR contract news to digest.

“Looking back over the last 12 months – we were already heavily using Microsoft products,” she said, “we did have a roadmap that we were moving towards Teams…we were already starting to plan for the roll-out – we weren’t planning, however, to do a full unified comms roll-out in 12 weeks. To say that was challenging would be a bit of an understatement.”

“We held firm with our belief that Microsoft Teams would do what we need it to do, without introducing another solution that potentially then causes confusion,” explained Grace.

Using a slide on the organisation’s MS Teams usage, she flagged up some impressive stats across the past month, including 321,000 Teams calls and nearly half a million chat messages. “In terms of a tool for communication,” Grace commented, “I think we’ve got the evidence there that Teams supports what we need to do and is absolutely embedded within our organisation.”

Highlighting the use of virtual smart cards within prisons, she said: “Any of you who know that landscape know that it’s difficult in terms of technology and what products you can take into prisons. So, actually, virtual smart cards were a real help for us – to be able to improve the working environment for that prison healthcare staff population.

“I’m sure in common with lots of you, we seem to spend an incredible amount of time imaging and pushing out mobile devices for our staff…we were able to procure, roughly, about 450 devices…a huge effort.”

On the challenges of virtual Mental Health Tribunals, she added: “The Ministry of Justice went forward on a specific solution that definitely had its issues in the early days and a [we had] a few interesting emails from judges – [it] certainly helped to focus the mind on making sure we could get that product properly implemented and working.”

The trust also began to develop a range of supportive apps, and now offers a variety, including the COVID-19 Staff Testing App, Flu Nurse Employee App, Employee Forms Portal App, and One-Off Lateral Flow Test Recording.

“We weren’t doing this prior to COVID,” she said, “moving to Office 365 has really enabled us to get a grip of this and develop some tools that are absolutely key to our organisation.”

After taking the audience through how the apps work and were able to support staff through challenges such as remote working, Grace also touched on the topics of digital poverty, digital skills for staff and potential burnout. She said: “The pace of change and speed of adoption has been massive. We need to make sure we can maintain momentum but, actually, when I look at my team I think everybody is absolutely exhausted…it’s about making sure that we don’t fall back…but [also] a bit of recognition that we can’t sustain this level of change and adoption, continually.”

“It’s also quite intrusive isn’t it?”, Grace asked, “when you’re looking into people’s homes. As much as you can fuzzy your background or blur…we need to work out rules for engagement around this.”

Contract negotiations with EPR provider Civica also took place, resulting in a new contract being signed at the beginning of December 2020 for a renewed 10-year relationship.

As for what the next 12 months will hold, Grace concluded: “We have moved forwards in leaps and bounds…it has been an incredible journey and [we] definitely don’t want to slip backwards with that.”

Watch the full video session below: