Date published: 18 December 2023

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I always think this time of year is all about tradition, whether that’s scanning the TV schedules for your favourite films, spending time with friends, or deciding to get away from it all. Within the NHS, the festive period is one of our busiest times when the pressure on our services is usually at its highest.

Christmas can be a tricky time for many of our patients, some of whom are lonely and prone to mental health issues and our thousands of community service users who need our services 24/7 and 365 days a year. As usual many of our staff will be working to ensure our services remain open to those who need them most and I’d like to thank everyone who is working over the next few weeks for helping to care for some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.

It's also traditional to reflect on the previous 12 months as we head into a new year and, as usual, it’s been a busy one for Mersey Care. I’m not sure where to start other than mark Rosie Cooper’s first year as Chair of our Trust, during which time she has been busy finding out more about what we do and how best to help and improve our services.

In early 2023, we received the results of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection, which had taken place the previous year and was our first since 2019. We were delighted to have maintained an overall “Good” rating for our services and were recognised as ‘Outstanding’ for being Well Led and Caring.

Following a number of acquisitions, and the expansion of the Trust’s services, to be further recognised for many areas of ‘outstanding practice’ was a tribute to the commitment, hard work and innovation shown during challenging times by our staff. The areas of outstanding practice included supporting staff with protected time to focus on continuous learning and innovation, embedding the work it has piloted nationally on reducing restrictive practice, heading up the first NHS led Global Centre for Research on Mental Health Inequalities and introducing Quality Improvement Initiatives into community inpatient services.

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I’m very proud that Mersey Care, in partnership with the University of Liverpool, has developed the ground-breaking Mental Health Research for Innovation Centre (M-RIC), which is funded by the award of £10.5 million from the Office for Life Sciences and the National Institute for Health and Social Care Research.

Recently located at Liverpool Science Park, MRIC is an exciting and pioneering opportunity in collaboration with healthcare, academia, and research to improve mental healthcare. M-RIC is prioritising six workstreams, and more information about their work can be found in my October blog.

Several of those workstreams involve the use of cutting-edge technology to improve the collection of patient data and look at innovative ways of providing high quality mental health care. Another great example of this is our Telehealth programme which delivers remote monitoring services across Cheshire and Merseyside, and West Lancashire, supporting around 2,000 patients a day with long-term conditions like COPD, diabetes, and heart failure. It’s been such a success, and become a media star with features on BBC Morning Live and BBC Radio Four’s World at One programme.

Elsewhere across the Trust, we’ve launched the first Trust charity, Mersey Cares, which aims to help our specialist mental health and community services by delivering projects not normally available within NHS funding, while work has progressed on updating our estate with Aspen Wood, our low secure unit based at Maghull Health Park.

This is due to be fully operational early in 2024, while building work continues at the new 80-bed Mossley Hill mental health facility and when opened will end traditional shared dormitory style wards in Liverpool. We also opened our new Neuromodulation Suite which left a real impression on Ruby Wax MBE, the writer, comedian and TV personality, who kindly took time out of her touring schedule to be our guest of honour at the official opening.

I’m also pleased to announce that Ashworth High Secure Hospital, one of only three of its type in the country, has begun its application for a five-year re-licensing of its services. We have presented key performing metrics and answered questions from a panel of NHS England representatives and we are optimistically anticipating our licence being granted early in 2024.

Another major achievement for our mental health services was being able to maintain a position of no inappropriate acute mental health placements (normally when patients are treated outside of their area because of the lack of local beds) during the year. We’re sharing our best practice at both national and local level and this is a major area of focus in the NHS Long Term Plan.

Once again, our community services have been at the forefront of what we do as an organisation and with over 100 different services, from equipment provision to falls teams to children and young people’s services, it’s impossible to shine a spotlight on what every team has achieved during 2023.

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Other highlights include some of our Walk-in Centres being re-designated at Urgent Treatment Centres, which allows us to deliver a wider range of services, including diagnostics, urine tests and x-rays, and prescribe medication and issue prescriptions for some conditions.

The recent pandemic may not be leading the headlines now, at least outside the current UK COVID-19 Inquiry, but it’s still having an impact on our services. The 24/7 Crisis Lines, which were set up in 2020, are still experiencing high volumes of calls (as can be seen on the infographic above), while Mersey Care was awarded the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of Sefton for the hard work and dedication of its workforce in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, the highest ceremonial honour Sefton Council can bestow.

Elsewhere in Sefton, we continue to deliver school health/0-19 services after securing the contract with Sefton Council, while our Building Attachment and Bonds Service is in the area and recently launched a new service for St Helens families.

Other new services we launched this year include our 24/7 CAMHS crisis response service and our mental health support teams continue to develop into schools. Our patients are also now able to book a blood test online after we expanded our Simply Book technology while talking therapies has benefitted from a national transformation.

As you can read, it’s been another very busy year and on behalf of Mersey Care’s Board of Directors I’d like to thank our patients, service users, carers, staff and stakeholders for their support during 2023. I hope you all have a lovely, restful Christmas and New Year.

Best wishes

Prof Joe Rafferty CBE

Chief Executive Officer

Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust