Dorset’s community mental health services could learn and improve if they listen to the views of the people who need their support, according to a new report out today from Healthwatch Dorset.

Healthwatch Dorset has been talking to local people with a range of mental health support needs, including people who are experiencing homelessness and those with drug and alcohol addictions, as well as voluntary sector workers who support them.

They wanted to understand how mental health support is provided to people in the community, and to hear people’s views about how mental health services could be improved.

Healthwatch Dorset Engagement Officer, Lucy Cribb, spoke in depth to 27 people who use local support groups across Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset. To help develop trust with people who are experiencing homelessness, Lucy spent several weeks with local support groups including Soul Food in Weymouth, and the HealthBus in Bournemouth. Many of the people she spoke to said that they felt very scared sleeping on the streets. One person who is currently homeless said: “Healthwatch Dorset coming out to speak to me is the most that anyone has ever asked me what I felt.”

Several common issues were identified through this project:

  • Long waiting times to access mental health services in the community
  • No access to community mental health services for people who are using drugs and/or alcohol
  • Medication is routinely prescribed instead of therapy
  • No regular reviews of medication
  • Lack of continuity of Community Psychiatric Nurses
  • People feel patronised and like they are not listened to
  • Instant discharge from care due to a missed appointment.

The Healthwatch Dorset report makes several recommendations for change and improvement to help services address these issues. The report has been shared with the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group to inform their ongoing review and development of community mental health services.

Healthwatch Dorset Manager, Louise Bate, said: “Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group launched their ‘Mental Health Integrated Community Care Project’ in the summer, to involve local people in shaping the future of community mental health services in Dorset. We wanted to speak to people who don’t always have a strong voice, to give them the opportunity to make a real difference to the way mental health services in our community are set up and delivered. Our thanks go to everyone who talked so openly about their personal stories and experiences to help make change happen.

“We also want to highlight the significant contribution of the voluntary groups we worked with on this project. They have developed strong relationships, built on trust and understanding, with the people they support. In the report, we recommend that community mental health services work much more closely with the voluntary sector in the future, to better support people who are vulnerable.”

Di Bardwell, Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Principle Programme Lead Primary and Community Care Directorate, said: “We want everyone living in Dorset to experience the best mental health and wellbeing possible. Currently, primary and community mental health services don’t always meet everyone’s needs. Through the ‘Mental Health Integrated Community Care Project’, health, care and voluntary sector partners, together with local people and communities, are working together to improve mental health services for adults and older people, and those that support them. The experiences and views of local people are vital in helping us to understand what is working well and what needs to be improved. We are very grateful to Healthwatch Dorset for helping us to reach out… and we’d like to say a special thank you to their Engagement Officer for having these important conversations.”

Read the full report Mental health in community care online, or the summay at: healthwatchdorset.co.uk/reports-publications/

Read Lucy Cribb’s blog – My diary: conversations about homelessness and health, which shares some of the stories she heard from people supported by HealthBus.