Reflecting on the past five years with Elaine Kirwan, Director of Nursing for our Mental Health Services

Elaine Kirwan Today (Tuesday 1 February), we’re celebrating Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust’s fifth birthday. Five years ago, Birmingham Women’s Hospital, Birmingham Children’s Hospital and our Mental Health Services came together under the one Trust. The first of its kind in our NHS, our ambition then, as it is today, is to be by the side of every patient and family we care for, offering them the very best care. 

Elaine Kirwan, Director of Nursing for our Mental Health Services, talks about what the launch of the Trust meant for Mental Health Services in Birmingham and what’s changed for our services over the last five years.  

What is your role in the Trust? 

I am the Director of Nursing for the Mental Health Services division and I'm a very proud one! I've been one of the leaders for Mental Health Services since Forward Thinking Birmingham started working within the organisation for twelve years and with the NHS for 37 years. I've worked in other organisations, but here, I found a place where I belong.  

What do you like most about working for the Trust? 

It’s all about the people. We have some of the most talented, committed, and dedicated people and they are just brilliant to work with and make such a difference in the lives of patients. I'm also fortunate to get to work with a lot of young people and they're amazing. I learn so much from our Think4Brum Group (the Trust’s mental health youth participation group), they are phenomenal. It's the people here that make it all worth it.  

Cast your mind back to February 2017, can you describe the general feeling when the Trust was launched?  

At Forward Thinking Birmingham, we were delighted. The coming together of the Women's and the Children's and our Mental Health Services, both the inpatient CAMHS (children and adolescent mental health services) and Forward-Thinking Birmingham, brought us together like a family.  

I can't believe that five years have passed, all that hard work, dedication and commitment have allowed a lot of improvements and changes to children and young people's Mental Health Services. The launch of the BWC family in 2017 came with the lifting of the organisation’s aspirations for children and young people's Mental Health Services in Birmingham including the joining of mental health of women and new mothers. 

What did it mean for you at the time?  

It meant that we were part of something even bigger and better. Yes, it was challenging, but without that challenge and that commitment to the children and young people in Birmingham, I don't think we would have achieved what we've achieved today as BWC, and we wouldn't have the mental health services that our children and young people deserve.  

We started with our merging of urgent care centres, followed with the transitioning of the early intervention in psychosis services and the development of what is a very precious relationship with Think4Brum and our experts by experience.  

Five years on, look at us now, we're celebrating mental health in schools and an urgent care expansion of a £4.6 million investment in our in-patient tier four facilities. We lead the way for CYP mental health regionally and we're contributing to national mental health developments, so it felt both scary and exciting at the same time.  

How has Forward Thinking Birmingham changed over the last five years?  

We've all been reflecting on the last five years, especially on our values of being "ambitious, brave and compassionate", and I think in upholding all of these, we've really grown as BWC and mental health is part of the BWC family. I think we've become even more ambitious about creating a message that good mental health is essential and creating an environment where children, young people and our workforce can be cared for, prosper, and thrive, is critical. 

It's sometimes been a bumpy, rocky road but it’s enabled us to be really focused on the future. The last five years have meant a lot to us, but in the next five years, we're going to be even more ambitious.  

What do you think the future holds for both the Trust and Forward Thinking Birmingham?  

We are working towards holding some excellent standards around the quality of care and improvements in services that are co-produced by experts by experience. It's been a phenomenal opportunity for us which has really supported the development of services that children and young people want to access, and that people want for their own children as well. People who work in Forward Thinking Birmingham want to create a service that everybody wants to use including our own families.  

The Integrated Care System work is a great opportunity for us to go forward, and I think BWC will lead the way and drive those improvements further forward for mental health.  

What achievements are you most proud of in the last five years, both personally and as an organisation?  

Personally … our people!  I am most proud of our people's ability to be able to create the right conditions to be able to provide compassionate care. I am so very proud of having a leadership role amongst the most talented and amazing people that you could possibly work with and we have been in some tough situations. There is nothing that excites me more than being immersed in the work with our children, young people, their families and our people who are all working so hard together to positively impact our mental health services. 

When you have the right people around you, well, you can do almost anything.  

As an organisation, we are buzzing with excitement and so proud to see the new green tree added to our BWC trust imagery, this was developed by our Think4Brum youth advisory group and signals the connection and belonging of mental health to Birmingham Women's and Children's Trust. 

I'm proud of our aspiration to make the 0-25 mental health services a reality. It started out as an ideal and a vision, but we have all worked hard to make it real. I feel proud of our organisation's courage to take it through its tumultuous years and get it to where it is now. That's one of the reasons why I love working in this organisation. Upholding the NHS values, leading on something so big and there was no blueprint for it - it was a really difficult thing to do, but we have managed as a Trust to lead patient engagement and co-production in what's been a very complex environment.  

I'm proud of everything that BWC has achieved through COVID-19 in terms of adapting our ways of working and never giving up or closing services. I am so proud of our staff; they have really been looking out for each other during this very challenging time. We are all more conscious of how important good mental health is to all of us as individuals and as one BWC team. 

I want to wish Birmingham Women's and Children's their happiest birthday ever because we feel that this is a great opportunity for us to celebrate our Team BWC!