On 4 January 2021 I began my journey as a Peer Support Worker for MPFT; the first of its type in physical health services. Having been interviewed for the post in October 2020 and appointed after a searching but enjoyable selection process I couldn’t wait to get started. The three month wait seemed interminable but now that I am in post it was worth every second of wait time.

My role sees me embedded in the Musculoskeletal Interface Service (MIS), based at the Haywood Hospital, under the leadership and mentorship of the inspiring Kay Stevenson. The MIS team work with people who have joint and muscle problems, including back, knee, hip and shoulder pain issues as well as the osteoarthritis condition.

I have worked alongside Kay for a number of years as a volunteer to the Haywood Foundation charity, but this peer support role is offering me the chance to become the patients’ voice in a vibrant and highly respected MSK team. My new ‘team mates’ could not have given me a warmer and more friendly welcome and have been extremely encouraging and supportive. I met the Trust’s Chief Executive and Managing Director of the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG – who commission most of the local area NHS services) in my first couple of weeks in post. This was a terrific opportunity to lay out my role objectives and they were roundly welcomed. So, what are those objectives and what do the next few months look like?

I have three distinct but inextricably linked work streams each with its own sub-sets on which to concentrate my efforts. Integration, Communication and Education are those work streams which are clearly defined.

The Integration Project has me working with a large team of dedicated professionals across many disciplines to bring together MIS, MSK Podiatry and Community Physiotherapy into one ‘joined up service’ in the north of the county. Within this project I am involved as a service user - to act as a critical friend – to examine and plan the way forward for a Single Point of Access, Workforce Development and I.T. and Records Management.

As with any development project there are, and will be, many challenges ahead but I am hugely encouraged by the commitment and dedication of the people with whom I am working. I am encouraged, as a service user representative to ask those sometimes difficult questions - “why?”, “what will this mean for service users and carers?” and, as with any project of this magnitude and complexity “will outcomes be significantly improved and give us ‘more bang for our buck’?”. From what I can see already after only a couple of month’s involvement, everything points to a positive future.

The communication and education role objectives are very much linked to the integration project but also enable me to widen my scope - and learning – across many facets of the Trust’s activities. Almost from day 1 I have been connected to other vibrant teams. My work has included:

  • Examining and contributing to the next phase of the Patient Reported Experience Measures (PREM) including the questionnaire, promotion and implementation of the scheme and the service user feedback mechanisms. Essentially this is a patient satisfaction survey system.
  • Working with a team of physiotherapists in the south of the region who have designed and developed a self-management OASIS workbook/guide book – this is a self-management  resource for people living with osteoarthritis, particularly for use as a virtual-world aid at the moment.
  • Contributing to a project looking at how the results of clinical appointments can be written directly to patients with copies to their General Practitioners (GP). At the moment letters go to the GP and are copied to patients. This often means it is more difficult for service users and their carers and families to understand.
  • Developing social media opportunities through blogs and vlogs in order to inform and advise the local service user groups of the changes that will be occurring within the Trust and wider health community.

I am privileged to be asked, as a long term user of MPFT’s services to contribute to a number of projects and initiatives where a patient’s voice can help design systems and services going forward.

A prime example of the breadth and depth of opportunities is a project being led by Dr Jonathan Quicke. Entitled “Living my life now, keeping active with joint pain”, this project falls in Dr Quicke’s Haywood Foundation Activity Co-ordinator role. Supported by MPFT, Versus Arthritis, Sport England and the Haywood Foundation the plan is to develop an activity pack full of tips, ideas and aids to help people with joint pain to keep active and access support for their condition. The initiative was sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown periods when joint pain sufferers could not access their usual facilities. Dr Quicke, also known as Johny Quicke is very keen to involve people with joint pain, or anybody who would like to contribute to project developments to come forward. Patients’ voices are so important to help create this valuable resource. Johny can be contacted via his MPFT email address at Jonathan.Quicke@mpft.nhs.uk. Johny is planning to run two, 2-hour workshops and participants will be reimbursed for their time.

March sees the start of my third month in the job and I am very much looking forward to what’s coming next. I am planning my first video blog and continuing to be ‘the patients’ voice’ as the Trust goes from strength-to-strength putting patients, carers and families at the front and centre of everything they do.

I hope this blog has given you an insight into a Peer Support Worker’s job. Please look out for my next blog which I plan to have ready for you in a couple of weeks. My first video blog should be ready for viewing in a couple of weeks too.

Mike can be followed on Twitter @MikeB_psw4mpft