This is the summer of Champions. We have been enthused by our Olympians, and with the Paralympics just around the corner I am sure there will be many more inspirational stories to remind us what can be achieved even when the odds are apparently stacked against us. However, being a champion is not only about sporting prowess. The Oxford dictionary also defines a champion as a person who vigorously supports or defends a person or cause, and that is what my Communication Champions are all about.
The evidence suggests that up to 80% of people accessing mental health services experience some degree of speech and language difficulty (Walsh et al. 2007, Emerson & Enderby 1996). It would be ridiculous to suggest that this number of people should be referred to a Speech and Language Therapist, particularly with the current level of SLT resource. However, finding a way to ensure that people with mental health problems who experience communication difficulties get the appropriate support is imperative.
Realising Potential outlines three different approaches to AHP service delivery – direct service provision, partnership working and consultancy – and if you want to reach a large number of people with a small resource then consultancy is undoubtedly the way to go. The Communication Champions initiative aims to use the Speech and Language Therapist’s knowledge to ensure that the general communication support needs of people with mental health problems can be met by the staff who work with them on a daily basis, and to educate staff to recognise more complex communication disorders that require specialist intervention. This not only makes effective use of a limited NHS resource but also increases an organisation’s capacity to provide high quality person-centred care through improved communication between staff and service users.
Working in partnership with local operational and training managers from The Richmond Fellowship Scotland, we have launched a pilot project to start the development of a Communication Champions training programme that I hope can be rolled out across the region (and who knows possibly beyond). Although it is still early days, we have seen some incredible work from our Communication Champions and I am extremely proud of their achievements. They are making small changes to their practice that are making a big difference to the people they support.
Emerson, J. & Enderby, P. (1996) “Prevalence of Speech and Language Disorders in a Mental Illness Unit”, European Journal of Disorders of Communication, 31(3): 221-36
Walsh, I., Regan, J., Sowman, R., Parsons, B. & McKay, A.P. (2007) “A Needs Analysis for the Provision of a Speech and Language Therapy Service to Adults with Mental Health Disorders”, Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 24(3): 89-93