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Supporting patients with mental illness beyond hospital walls

Ubong Akpan, Health Champion Volunteer Coordinator at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust [pictured below, right], shares how Mind & Body’s Health Champions are providing personalised support for patients to aid recovery.

Ubong interview option 2What is your role within King’s Health Partners?

I am Ubong Akpan, Health Champion Volunteer Coordinator at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. The Health Champions project is a buddy scheme and is currently being run as a nine-month randomised control trial.

Tell us about the Health Champions project

Health Champions provide support to service users with serious mental illness to help improve their lifestyle, physical and mental health. Service users at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust can choose if they want to be part of the project and are referred through the community team. Once referred, a champion is assigned to offer one on one support for the duration of the nine-month randomised control trial.

The project aims to build confidence in people who experience serious mental illness. The Health Champions are there to support anybody who meets our set our inclusion criteria and is engaged with our South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust community mental health team. The ambition is that, at the end of the nine-month period, they are able and confident to live independently, and carry-on habits and hobbies developed in that time. Health Champions’ support is a hugely impactful addition to the care that service users receive from nurses, doctors, and carers. Champions work with just one individual at a time, or a few if comfortable, which means we can offer focused support based on what matters most to the service user. This can also involve liaising with the community team to raise any concerns if additional support is needed.

What does the role of Health Champion involve?

A big part of being a Health Champion is helping people improve their lifestyle. That can be things like helping people who want to get a bit fitter by going on walks or helping to develop a new active hobby to support their physical health. Diet is also an important contributor to this, so Health Champions might do things like offer help with shopping or suggest healthy meal ideas.

One of the major things that people with mental illness can experience is loneliness and isolation. You might be in a room with 200 people, but you could still feel alone. To have someone who can support you to reassimilate into activities after spending a period in hospital can make all the difference. Health Champions build supportive relationships with their service users in the programme. Service users feel reassured that someone is there for them. Being able to meet every week or talk on a regular basis provides contact that ensures people do not feel so isolated or lonely. Having that makes a huge difference for people who do not have as much support from family or carers.

What would it have meant to have the support of a Health Champion when you were receiving treatment?

I became ill in the early 2000s and was in and out of hospital until 2007. In that time, I was offered several tools and modes of support, but it was not particularly structured and was coming from lots of different directions. If the Health Champions were around at the time, I would have had someone I could talk to who could bring all that support together, in a way that was personalised to me. This might have been helping me with my diet, sleep pattern, and all the things that affect my own health.

I chose to live on my own at the time as I wanted my independence. Having a Health Champion there would have meant I had someone there to show care and concern, beyond my Community Psychiatric Nurse. With the support of a Health Champion, I also could have started to make lifestyle changes sooner. Things might have been different then, and lead to fewer hospital admissions.

This project has been made possible through funding from Maudsley Charity.

Find out more about the Health Champions project here.

We are committed to joining up mental and physical healthcare, training and research to improve health outcomes for patients and service users. Find out more about the important Mind & Body work we are doing.