Meet your governor: Claire Sessions

Meet your governor: Claire Sessions

“My overarching aim is to empower service users to have their voice heard on every level and understand their opportunities for involvement and coproduction.”

Claire Sessions was elected in May 2021 to Oxford Health’s Council of Governors to represent service users from the Buckinghamshire & other counties constituency. This is in fact her second time in the role: she was first elected in 2018 but had to stand down when she was offered a job at the Trust. The job fell through but Claire had seen that as a governor she would get her voice heard so, now a student of psychology at Buckingham New University, she decided to go for it again.

“I do a lot of patient experience and co-production work anyway and am involved in various projects and interview panels. Being a governor opens a lot of doors,” she says.

“As governor my overarching aim is to empower service users to have their voice heard on every level and understand their opportunities for involvement and coproduction to enable us to shape the services.”

Claire is quite itching to get back to groundwork, meeting service users and hearing about their experiences – work that has been rather hindered by the COVID pandemic. On the top of her list of priorities is addressing physical health needs of people who use mental health services.

“I did a college course and a survey on physical health needs last year and was shocked how ignored they are,” she says.

“I’m now working with Bill Tiplady [Associate Director for Psychological Therapies] and the Recovery College to start a programme around physical health: diet, exercise, medication management – you know, the basics,” Claire says.

“I want to get more people involved in that as well as get our coffee mornings and walking groups going again,” she enthuses.

Other areas close to Claire’s heart are the single point of access for Buckinghamshire mental health services and Buckinghamshire Street Triage service. This works in partnership with Thames Valley Police to provide a triage service to those who present to the police with a mental health crisis.

“This is a massive piece of work, but I am quite excited about it,” Claire says. “It really is about transforming the service.”

Claire’s passion for service user involvement comes from her own experience: she’s been a service user with Oxford Health since 2012.

“I am all too familiar with how we can feel undervalued and deflated. Sometimes services don’t get it right, and as the people who access these services, we have the power to help the Trust understand ways to improve that would benefit our care,” she says.

Claire is personally invested in improving the pathway to care for people with a personality disorder (PD).

“Everyone I come across in crisis with a PD, says that staff are dismissive because it’s not what I’d call a severe psychiatric illness. It’s an emotional difficulty, and people are so dismissive of it.

“I know a lot of work is going into PD pathways and stuff now, and working groups are in progress, but it’s still a huge issue for service users,” Claire estimates.

Claire also notes that recruitment and retention are on-going challenges to Oxford Health and especially so in Buckinghamshire.

“We are too close to London,” she says. In general, she sees that there’s plenty to improve in mental health services in her county.

“In Oxfordshire there are lots of third party organisations who help provide mental health support; in Bucks we have less. And even our existing services are not that well connected. For your physical health you are told to go to your GP. In Amersham their mental health team is above the GP. Why are they not more connected? They’re in the same building,” Claire says.

She is aware of the plans for more integrated care systems but remains sceptical about the pace of the integration.

On a more positive note, Claire has noticed that co-production and service user involvement in developing services is now very much valued and welcome at the Oxford Health.

“The people higher up are really pushing it and saying it brings value to the Trust. There are many more opportunities to get involved than even three years ago and the Trust even pays for people’s time for it. It’s nice to be valued and appreciated.”

University and Oxford Health service improvement certainly keep Claire occupied but what about free time?

“I used to do a lot of online gaming at nights – until I started uni!” she laughs.

“Now I do loads of stuff through uni – it’s really all I do: I’m in the hockey team, go swimming, I’ve been go-karting and paintballing. I have just started a LGBT+ society at the university – because there wasn’t one – and I am quite proud of that. Eleven people came to the first meeting,” she says.

“Plus there’s all the volunteer work,” she lists. The day after our interview Claire was on her way to do beach cleaning in Brighton.

You can contact Claire and all the governors by emailing contactyourgovernor@oxfordhealth.nhs.uk.

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Published: 15 October 2021