These days we are hearing a lot more in the news about mental health. There has been a lot of media coverage about Mental Health Awareness Week, (just finished) including an interesting programme on BBC1 ‘A Royal Team Talk’ with the Duke of Cambridge , Gareth Southgate and several Premier League footballers opening up about some of the issues they have faced, while being in the public eye . Campaigns such as Time to Change and Heads Together along with organisations such as Mind and CALM now have high profiles.  Mental health is a massive issue. To quote one statistic, in the UK suicide is the highest cause of death among men under the age of 45.

This is what makes my job as Citizen Ambassador, Mental Health, for Healthwatch Surrey so interesting and challenging. In Surrey the local picture is of some concern. Healthwatch data for Quarter 4 (January- March 2019) found that 72% of people who commented on how their mental health issue was dealt with, reported a negative experience compared with only 22% who reported a positive experience. This is likely to be one of the reasons why Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System, which is responsible for service delivery, is changing the way it works. They plan to introduce an integrated service where a person may not necessarily see their GP at the surgery but may see a Mental Health practitioner, psychologist or peer support worker.

There is also an increased emphasis on giving people more control over their healthcare and promoting patient wellbeing through initiatives such as social prescription. But is this is the right approach; or should they be running the service differently? And what are the key priorities for clients of the service?

Finding this out and reporting my findings back to the Surrey Heartlands ICS is the main focus of my job. The steer I have been given from Heartlands colleagues is to find out the views of primary care patients, i.e the person on the streetasking what their expectations are when they report a mental health issue to their GP in the first instance. For example given that the GP is likely to have limited time, how do they feel about being seen by another professional and what would need to be in place for them to have a positive experience.        

To get some initial background, I attended a meeting of the Independent Mental Health Network (IMHN) and asked the group to identify what issues they had experienced and gain an understanding of why Healthwatch respondents had reported negative experiences.  The group reported back several concerns:

  • Not enough emphasis on evidence based early intervention and prevention
  • GPs are not completing the appropriate forms and when referring patients are often bounced between different services if they do not meet specific criteria.
  • North West Surrey has the highest suicide rate in Surrey
  • The Network has worked with Healthwatch Surrey to ensure carers are heard. If carers don’t get early intervention and support they can end up with their own mental health issues.
  • How age appropriate for older people is talking therapies such as Counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?
  • Need to get feedback from primary care service users whose voices are not usually heard
  • Housing associations do not always understand the issues carers face
  • Family carers do not have any rights unless they have permission from the person using services.
  • Supporting people with long term conditions such as autism.

I have networked with several organisations in the county including housing associations, local authorities, and mental health charities with a view to getting citizen feedback.

I also attended the Healthy Guildford Day organised by Guildford Borough Council. My colleague Natalie Markall and I met the Mayor Councillor Mike Parsons who was very interested in Surrey Healthwatch and mental health issues. Natalie and I also attended a meeting of the Outcrowd, an LGBT group based in Woking.        

Next steps? The focus for the next few months will be to get feedback from primary care patients. To this end I shall be attending Patient Participation Group (PPG) meetings in Nork and also visiting Epsom and Milford hospitals. I am also due to meet with staff from the Richmond Fellowship and Cornerhouse with a view to setting up engagement sessions with their clients.

I am always very happy to meet with people or groups who are happy to share their views on their experiences of accessing mental health services in Surrey please so do get in touch! My email address is

Michael Frean, Citizen Ambassador (Mental Health) Blog