Hannah-Louise Toomey had a keen interest in improving access to mental health services even before she was elected as a governor for Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust in 2019. Now, with nearly two years in the role, she is even more enthusiastic.
“It’s been very exciting, 100 per cent worth it,” she says.
Her initial motive was both personal and societal.
“I really wanted to help remove the stigma and shame attached to mental health problems. I wanted recovery to be promoted and spoken about as much as illness itself, or more. I wanted to let people know that although it is often difficult to ask for help, once you’ve asked, there is a lot of support.”
As a governor Hannah-Louise has found a platform where she can pursue the causes close to her heart and get involved in much more than just meetings. She has conducted ward inspections and sat in the panel to interview candidates for Oxford Health’s chief executive. She has presented in the Trust’s Health Matters webinar and promoted the Trust membership in events such as the International Women’s Day 2020 at the Asian Cultural Centre in Oxford. She was appointed the chair of the Membership Involvement Group and is keen to increase engagement with the public and service users, especially in communities that may be under-represented in shaping the local health services.
“A lot of people associate Oxford with wealth, but there are very deprived areas in Oxfordshire. I really want to go into these communities and rather than saying: ‘This is what we can do for you, this is what we’re going to put into your community’, I want to say ‘what is it that you would like? And how can we achieve that? How can we work together?’ I really want to highlight the discrepancies we have between multiple communities around Oxford, and work with local organisations to change how we deliver health care services.”
Governor and uni student
Stepping up to be a governor coincided with Hannah-Louise starting to study for a Masters degree in occupational therapy at Oxford Brookes University. Notwithstanding the obvious challenge for time management, this has inspired her to consider further, more strategic directions in her role.
“My university is very supportive of my role as governor and they value the relationship between the university and the Trust. They’re also very aware that my role as a governor needs to be separate from my role as a student. For instance, I won’t be put in a student placement on a ward that I’m involved with as a governor.”
“One thing that I’m trying to do as a governor is to develop the relationship between the universities and Oxford Health, looking at the bigger picture like staff retention within the Trust. Going into the final couple of years of school and going to universities and say: ‘please come in. Have placement with us then please stay with us.’ So, currently a few of us are looking at setting up a mentorship program where we can support students through their final years and placements: offer them a gateway into the Trust, buddy them up with a professional, and support them in obtaining a long term position with the Trust,” she says, adding:
Opportunity to grow
Hannah-Louise feels that being a governor has helped her to develop and enhance her skills, not to mention knowledge.
“Part of the challenge was me getting over my imposter syndrome; thinking that I wouldn’t be good enough. Then I started being listened to – which is I exactly why I decided to run to be a governor. I wanted to be heard so when I started being heard, I thought oh, OK, I’m being listened to.”
“I definitely have grown as a person and as a professional. I am quite direct and can speak my mind and I’ve always been like that. But learning to put my ideas across in a governance context; that’s a whole another thing! I have to reason why I’m pushing to do something. I can’t just say we have a problem without backing it up with a solution, and I have to engage my listeners in a very short time. Now, if I have to present on the spot, I can!”
Led by service users
In this year’s Council of Governors election, Oxford Health is increasing the representation for service users: there are seven governor vacancies for service users across the counties. Nominations will open in March – check out the vacancies and how to put yourself forward here.
“We are a led by our service users. They are the experts with lived experience. We [the Trust] are just facilitators in their care and recovery. We need more of our service user voices in order to do the absolute best that we can.”