Carol Plunkett is the Charity Development and Project Manager at the Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust. Here she explains how the Trust is hoping to fund a series of beautiful outdoor spaces to support mental health
I have always been a very independent and driven person, who aspired to achieve certain goals, and there have been so many amazing opportunities for me both personally and professionally. I have been very lucky in my career – working across the private, voluntary, and public sectors and they all offer their own unique challenges and benefits. I am a firm believer in that you should love to do what you are paid to, and I love to be able to make positive things happen, to help others. Having a supportive family and friends is something that has always bolstered me in times of challenge along with running, and I absolutely advocate that you must look after yourself, to be able look after others and be your best self.
I joined Norfolk Community Health and Care (NCH&C) NHS Trust in late February 2020, just before the Coronavirus pandemic took us into lockdown, as Charity Development and Project Manager. The role is to manage donations made to the Trust mainly from grateful patients and the local community in order to benefit the patients of NCH&C. We are a registered charity, governed by the Charities Commission but also uniquely by NHS legislation and it is essential that we manage the funds separate from government funding. We work with clinicians and colleagues across the Trust to identify ways to improve the service delivered to patients that exceeds what is normally available through NHS funding. This is generally around improving the experience of patients in our hospitals, clinics, GP’s and in the community at home by funding specialist equipment, staff training, enhancing environments and supporting patient and staff wellbeing.
As I joined just before lockdown, I hadn’t really experienced how the Trust operated in ‘normal’ times and so I had to find a way to understand what the challenges were for staff and patients at our 70 facilities across the county and how best we could support them. I had to quickly establish relationships and communication with key personnel and learn how the system and processes worked within the sector. We knew that staff were working longer hours, under increased pressure, experiencing high staff absences and delivering treatment in ways they never had to before. We immediately created a cross working group that met weekly at the beginning of the pandemic over Teams. We worked with our HR and Staff Engagement representatives to identify ways that could support wellbeing and also help build resilience and support recovery from the pandemic in a longer-term way. Working in full PPE brought its’ own challenges, as well as staff being redeployed in unfamiliar services to continue to support patients was hard, particularly without that emotional support that visitors can bring to patients. The Trust ramped up its resources and tools to support the individual needs and circumstances of all its staff and the Charity worked in partnership to enhance that provision by access funding from NHS Charities Together. This funding enabled us to deliver many initiatives such as fruit/drink provisions on ward, cooling towels, outside seating areas, mental health training, neuro music therapy and patient wellbeing packs.
The charity works closely with colleagues across the Trust to expend funds, and we anticipate that our funding for wellbeing initiatives will continue at an increased level for the foreseeable future, as it is so crucial to the continued delivery of service by our hardworking teams. The Charity works to deliver activities that will immediately benefit a particular patient group or service in order to benefit patients, but also on longer term and more strategic projects that increase the capital of the Trust. We have recently invested £32,000 in the delivery of a trial neurological music therapy project for patients who have suffered an injury to the brain. This service, which is not available through NHS funding normally, has enabled patients to access a different type of therapy, that is proven to help with communication and cognitive abilities – aiding recovery and improving their quality of life. Without the charity funding, this service would not have been available, and we hope to extend this project in the future.
I think that we have all had to learn to live differently in so many ways – both at home and at work. It is hard to come to terms with so many crucial changing elements all at the same time, and so I think that everyone has become more mindful of being kinder to yourself, and making sure that you look after yourself, both physically and mentally in order to keep going, be happy and healthy, and ultimately thrive.
We have just applied for a further grant from NHS Charities Together that will fund a series of outdoor development areas across the Trust to provide relaxing and calming environments. These spaces will deliver a therapeutic facility for patients to escape the busy wards, visitors to have some headspace and of course staff to take a break from the noise and activity. There is so much research to evidence how beautiful outside spaces can support our mental health which is so important during these uncertain times.
To find out more about how the Norfolk Community Health and Care Charitable Fund works with Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust, please visit: www.norfolkcommunityhealthandcare.nhs.uk/nchc-charitable-fund
Featured image: Carol Plunkett trying out the newly installed outdoor gym facility at North Walsham Hospital