Saturday, 31 May 2014

Update on maternal mental health activities

*** This is an edited extract of an update I sent out to my PANDAS peer support group mailing list recently ***

I thought I might update you on a few different events and activities coming up over the Summer.  There is a lot happening in the field of maternal and perinatal mental health, and this can only be a good thing!

The Good Enough Mums Club
I'm so excited to report that this amazing musical (written by a fellow survivor of postpartum psychosis, Emily Beecher) is going to be staged right here in Kennington at the Three Stags pub.  I was lucky to have a "sneak preview" of the show (see my blog post here )and was thoroughly impressed: it will make you laugh, cry and think.  We talk a lot about "raising awareness" and "tackling stigma" when it comes to mental illness, but this is easier said than done.  This amazing company of mums is getting their message out there in the arts world, and I take my hat off to them.

You can buy tickets here:

Best Beginnings
This charity is working hard to make life easier for new parents.  They are in the process of creating a series of videos to show in antenatal classes and other settings to help people prepare for the realities of new parenthood, and the increased risk of mental illness during this period.  They are holding a "stakeholders day" next Thursday (5 June), in Central London.  And this morning I took part in a focus group, to inform the content and style of the videos.  For more information, and ways to get involved, see:

Maternal Mental Illness: managing risk factors 
My fellow PANDAS trustee, and expert on both PND and sleep issues, Dr Andy Mayers of Bournemouth University is hosting a special one-day conference on 10 June.  The event will bring together health professionals, academics, and "experts by lived experience" (like me, I'm speaking in the afternoon!!).  I spent about three hours last night, putting together a short PowerPoint presentation ("Postpartum Psychosis: my journey through motherhood & madness").  It was hard and emotional work, looking through all the photos my husband took of me during my illness, but I'm keen to show the delegates what severe postnatal illness can look like - and what recovery can look like too.

There are a few (free) tickets still available here:

Postpartum Progress
Every year, in June, this incredible US-based charity does an annual fundraiser called "Climb Out of the Darkness".  Teams take part across the world, all climbing together to raise awareness and funds for maternal mental health.  You can read all about it here:
And you can see our 22 June London Climb page here:
I can't believe it is now June - you will see we haven't even started fundraising yet!

Maternal Mental Health Alliance
The MMHA is an umbrella organisation of over 40 different charities and professional bodies, all working towards "improving the mental health and wellbeing of women and their children in pregnancy and the first postnatal year."
While it is admittedly difficult to steer an organisation of such size, apparently many important steps forward are taking place.

Their current campaign (which has received Comic Relief funding for the next 3 years) is called "Maternal Mental Health - Everyone’s Business" and has three main strands:
a) Raise the profile of perinatal mental illness amongst key stakeholders,
b) Apply sustained pressure to address the commissioning and delivery of perinatal mental health care, &
c) Showcase solutions and examples of best practice.

A key part of this campaign is the call for specialist mental health midwives.  

The campaign held a review and evaluation workshop on 15 May, and the next MMHA meeting is scheduled for 25 June.  

For more information, see:

PND awareness month
I was honoured to be included within a group of charities and individuals who met in Bristol to discuss the creation of a national PND awareness event.  It was a fantastic event (organised by the wonderful @littlemissevec and the Bristol-based Butterflies charity) and a further meeting is taking place in Liverpool on 1 July (hosted this time by PSS PND).  All I can say is Watch This Space! 

New draft NICE guidelines
Finally - keep an eye out for new draft guidelines from The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which will be going out to consultation in early July.  This will update the current NICE clinical guideline on Antenatal and Postnatal Mental Health, which was published back in 2007 ( ).

Wednesday, 28 May 2014


The husband is self-employed and tends to work in intensive bursts.  We knew that May through July would be a very busy time for him this year, so I have been on the look-out for things for The Boy and I to do to keep ourselves out of Daddy's hair.  When I heard a group of former work colleagues (and now good friends!) were going to Snowdonia for a few days over the May bank holiday I leapt on the Wales-bound bandwagon...

The plan was always for The Boy and I to drive up on the Friday, staying at a B&B a few hundred yards from the hostel our friends had booked, in a small village called Capel Curig.  As it happened, The Husband found he could join us for the first two nights, catching the train up on Friday afternoon and back on the Sunday.  No bank holiday for him - back for an all-day meeting!

Luckily I had company in the car from a friend-of-friend going, who happened to be a brilliant travelling companion.  I needed the chat and some assistance with The Boy - the traffic getting out of London and all the way up the M1 was horrendous!  As was The Boy's general mood, unsurprisingly.  A four-and-a-half hour TomTom journey took 7 and a half hours!!!

Anyway, we made it - somewhat exhausted but pleased to be waking up on the Saturday in one of the greenest, most beautiful spots in the country.

Saturday was a little "mixed", weather-wise, to say the least.  But we (the 3 of us - trying to join the 15-strong adult party would have been impossible!) managed a short stroll up to Lyn Llydaw lake from the Pen-y-Pass car park and back.  It was a great view for not too much effort, and once the rain died down The Boy really enjoyed himself.  He learned a few new words too: "stone" and "wet"!  The only unfortunate part of the day was our Snowdon Sherpa bus shuttle back down to where we had to park the car: the driver drove at a lunatic pace down the mountainside, with his back doors wide open.  I was clinging into The Boy for his dear life - and was ready to punch the guy in the face when I got off.  I didn't, but we will be pursuing this further and have the number of the bus concerned.

We spent Saturday afternoon wandering around Betwys-y-Coed and sampling the delcious offer from The Welsh Cake Company. 

That evening our lovely B&B (St Curig) even provided a babysitter, so we could join our friends at the local charity quiz held at the friendly Moel Siabod cafe.

On Sunday, before Daddy caught the train, we had a lovely sunny stroll through the bluebell woods and by the streams around Plas-y-Brenin.  The others all made it up Snowdon itself - although they did not get back until almost 7pm!

After waving Daddy off at Llandudno, The Boy and I fitted in a short play at Colwyn Bay: he enjoyed the bouncy castle and I tried to treat him to an ice cream.  But the poor thing was in full blown "I'm tantrum-ing just because I'm tired" phase by that point.

The drive back down to London on Monday was miles better than the outward trip - home in five hours, with the best run down Edgeware Road I have ever experienced in my 12 years of driving around London!

We were happy to be home, to catch up with Cat, but pleased to have spent a few days in the fresh air of the Welsh hills.  Now to support The Husband through the last few weeks of this intense work period, before the two-month summer holiday can begin properly!

I'm linking this up to

Post Comment Love

Super Busy Mum
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

London during half-term

Meanwhile, back in rainy London during half term week...

Most of our regular playgroups and activities aren't on, due to the half term.  But in their place springs up a host of special events laid on by the city's most famous attractions.

First up today was the National Gallery.  The Boy and I arrived (at the education centre entrance) early for a "talk and play" session for 0-5 year olds.  

We were taken to Room 29 by a lady dressed as a 17th century milk maid.  She took the gaggle of toddlers to a special rug laid out in front of Rueben's "Het Steen" landscape.  A huge painting that provided a great backdrop to renditions of "Horsey, Horsey" and "Old MacDonald".

After talking about the characters and animals to be found in the painting, we were all led back through the Gallery to a stay-and-play room - set out with lots of craft materials (based loosely on the painting) and toys.  We enjoyed playing here for a good twenty minutes, before The Boy's all-consuming desire for his packet of PomBears became just too much to handle.  

We did manage to create a little pre Fathers Day picture for daddy, however:

All in all, I would thoroughly recommend the National Gallery's programme of events for 0-5 year olds.  They hold activities on Sundays, as well as during school holidays.  They also run special events for older children and young people.

(Entrance to this event was free of charge to all, on a first-come,first-served basis.)

I'm linking this up to Let Kids Be Kids over at:

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

101 things for a mum to do when her baby is at crèche

Welcome to a new series on the Blog, where I hope to document for posterity what I have managed to do during the few hours of weekly childcare we have now procured for The Boy.

You won't find any housework going on here.  I need to make the most of this precious time, for body, mind and soul!

Eventually, I hope to use this time to progress my social enterprise cafe plan a little further.  I have to admit I have not found the time to devote to it so far.

But, first things first...

#1. Go for a swim
I had every good intention of a calorie-busting outdoor dip at Brockwell Lido.  A fabulous 1920s lido not far from Brixton.  I'd successfully dropped The Boy at nursery (minimal tears and no leg-clinging today!) and had caught the bus down the road, raring to go.

Sadly, upon arrival, I learned that the pool closes between 1 and 4pm.  Because clearly, when you are running a freezing cold outdoor recreational pool you would want to close during the warmest period of the day.  Clearly. 

Undeterred, I decided instead to head to the definitely-open Brixton Rec.  I'd never been before, despite it being a large community leisure centre with a host of facilities and activities: 2 pools, sauna and steam, gym, hall, soft play, cafe, squash, crèche etc etc.  

I wasn't expecting too much in terms of immaculate changing rooms or spa-style goodies, but the place was clean enough for me (given it was hosting numerous school swimming classes at the time) and had a relaxing Scandinavian sort of design.  

I swam 25 lengths or so of the bigger pool, quietly taking in the view of Brixton rooftops and the railway line.  I quite like the unspoken camaraderie between swimmers sharing the same lap lane.  We quietly acknowledged each other as we sedately breast-stroked by.  I was only slightly splashed by an infectiously enthusiastic group of local school kids who were clearly having a blast.

On my way out, for future reference, I checked out the soft play (fairly extensive, multi-storied affair) and crèche (well-equipped, but I was a little unnerved to see the only two charges strapped into their buggies...).

All in all - well worth my £4.20.  No membership commitment needed, and no hassle.  I will hold judgement on the crèche.

Website for Brixton Rec:

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Lessons on friendship, for the boy...

The boy has really begun to notice other children around him, in the last few months.  His compadres have gone from nothing more than living dolls, wriggling next to him on a playmat - to real people with names, faces, feelings and personalities of their own.  The boy is slowly but surely starting to recognise his favourites, and the benefits that friendship can bring.  When you are one-and-a-half life is much more fun with play mates.

I wish time could stand still for him.  I wish friendships could always be based on nothing more than a shared love of throwing sand around, or the Gruffalo.  I wish friendships could always bring laughter and cuddles and shared snacks and smiling faces.

Between toddlers, friendship is about exploring the world together: what happens when I prod your eye like this? What happens when we throw the ball like that?  There is no tally kept on who owes who the most raisins, or rice cakes shared.  There are no lasting recriminations when tears are shed or someone needs their mummy.

So how can I possibly prepare such youthful innocence for the world of grown-up friendships?  To explain to him that sometimes friendships will bring hurt and anger and even loneliness.  There are lessons that he will need to learn, when it comes to friends and friendships.

The funny thing is, the more I've thought about these lessons, the more I've realised: it's us grown ups who should be taking the lessons of friendship from toddlers!

1. Real friends accept you for who you are, warts and all.
Toddlers don't care if you are short or tall, skinny or plump.  They don't care what colour your hair is or when you last had it cut.  They don't care if you are ill, or feeling sad.  They will play with anyone, as long as that person has breath in their lungs.
But son, this won't always be the case.  One day people will start to judge you on your appearance, your nationality, your background.  One day, your playmate's mummy might not invite the whole class to the birthday party.  They will expect you to be friends with people just like you - and will look twice at "odd" pairings.  So always remember your youthful acceptance of everyone, as many grown ups miss out on some wonderful friendships by ignoring people who don't look, sound or behave exactly as they do.

2. Real friends never expect anything in return.
Toddlers are essentially kind beings, despite not always knowing how to share.  Toddlers don't keep careful records on who owns what and which toys are whose.  Grown ups are keen to teach you how to share, but soon this enthusiasm wanes, to be replaced with a careful guarding of what's mine is mine.  Finders, keepers.  An eye for an eye.
Grown ups don't realise that property rights are an artificial construct, created by society, to impose rules and order.  This is fine, we must accept a few rules and order in life.  But do be generous with your friends.  Give willingly, never expecting anything in return.  Don't keep tabs on your friendships, your dinner party invitations, and especially not your time.  Helping others in need is it's own reward, because as every toddler is taught - it's nice to share.

3. Real friends will persist, even when you say you're "fine".
Toddlers wear their hearts on their sleeves. It is easy to tell who is sad, who is angry, and who is distressed.  And this translates into a beautiful level of empathy.  When one kicks off a tantrum, it is more than likely that you will join in, in solidarity.  
Grown ups frown on public displays of emotion.  They work very hard to maintain a facade of normality, of success, of stability, of achievement.  So it is never easy to tell who may need help, or a friendly ear. Never believe anyone who says they are "fine", if they are not looking you directly in the eye.  Be persistent.  The building of facades is infectious, but if one crumbles then others will too.  So never be afraid to tell someone how you really are.  They might just open up to you.

4. Friends never keep score.
Toddlers haven't learned yet how to be competitive.  They might soon learn to kick a football, but they don't yet choose sides.  They don't recognise winners and losers, better and worst.  Life is a game.  They are just having fun.
Grown ups, in contrast, live in a constant state of comparison and relative success.  They work hard to earn more, know more, and to be "the best".  Some economists even say that people can have all the material wealth they will ever need - but if the Jones next door have just a little bit more, they will never be happy.  This is happiness, as prescribed by Capitalists.  It's not the form of happiness preached by wise men.  You will get dragged into the Rat Race, I'm sure you will, but always stop a while to remember what's really important: being kind, having fun, and sharing joy.

5. Sometimes the best friends you can ever have are closer than you think.
Toddlers are usually best friends with mummy, daddy, and (in your case) the family cat.  There is no one else who can make you laugh as loud as daddy.  There is no one else who will play with you for as long as Cat does.  There is no one else (I like to think!) that you want to turn to when you've bumped your head.
Grown ups like to distance themselves from their families, as soon as the first signs of puberty hit them.  They ignore their parents and fight with their siblings.  They do everything they can to escape family ties and forge ahead with their own lives.  But, often, they will come to realise that their family members were the best friends they were looking for all along.  Not everyone is lucky enough to have all their family around them.  So cherish these friendships for as long as you can.

I'm linking this up to three different linkys this week:
Super Busy Mum

The Reading Residence

As well as the wonderful PoCoLo blog party over at

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 16 May 2014

My country kid...

I think my urban baby is a "Country Kid" at heart...  He was born in the shadow of Big Ben, overlooking the Houses of Parliament (the views from St Thomas' labour ward really are incredible!).  

He lives with us in our little urban oasis (Kennington), but just a few hundred metres from one of London's busiest roundabouts, shopping centre and housing estate nexus (Elephant and Castle).  

One of his earliest words was a gleeful "nee-naw, nee-naw!", due no doubt to the regularity of passing police cars.

But despite all that, I genuinely believe I have a country boy on my hands.

The evidence?

1. The boy just cannot be contained indoors.  From the moment I carry him downstairs (barefoot and still wearing his jim-jams) it's "..'side! 'Side!!!!" ("Please may you unlock the back door mother, so I can go and play outside.")

2. If there is any hint that we may be about to leave the house (even if we just need to pop to the corner shop for some milk) the boy is standing by the front door shouting "park! PARK!!!"

3. Indeed, if he is forced to spend some time playing in the living room (sadly indoors), at least he has his favourite book for mummy to read to him.  "Pip and Posey and the Super Scooter" is a perilous tale of jealousy and comeuppance... But, to the boy's delight, it is entirely set within a park.  So he will happily point to the trees, flowers, swings and slide and pretend that he is there.

4. He has an uncanny ability to commune with animals, even those of the urban variety (pigeons, squirrels, even the snails that leave trails across our back yard).  Our young cat is clearly his favourite family member, and they will happily chase each other around the house all day.  And if, woe betide mummy, he has been cruelly strapped into his pushchair for the journey to the nearest park, he is still easily distracted by any number of passing "dug"s... 

Who knows how this will pan out in the future?  For now, I am happy to indulge my country kid - as I am very much a country mummy at heart.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Meatloaf (I would do anything for love...)

I have to, have to have to, share this recipe with you all.  I am on a mission to dispel the myth that meatloaf is dry, tasteless, school-dinner fare.  Nothing could be further from this meal: it is tasty, succulent, versatile and (best of all!) an economical way to feed your family.

Tyler's Ultimate Meatloaf
This isn't my favourite Food Network show (hello, "Man vs Food"!), but I have to admit "Tyler's Ultimate" does a lot of ground research into its features, and this recipe is no exception.  Please take a look, and trust me when I say it really was easy to make and had a huge taste:effort ratio.  Better still, I made it for Friday night tea, and it also did us well over the weekend (you can take individual slices of the leftover loaf, and fry up to crispy perfection - delicious served with a fried egg, or pasta, or whatever leftover vegetables you have in the fridge.)

I'm sharing this over at Honest Mum's

Tasty Tuesdays on

Messiest messy play EVER... Edible fingerpaint disaster!

So I came across a lovely new blog, that explained how to make fingerpaint, using cornflour, water and food colouring.  Great, I thought.  Edible, colourful fun, using simple cupboard ingredients...

Fast forward an hour, and I was on my hands and knees wiping gloop and gunge off the floor, and washing down the boy in the washing up bowl!

I'm not sure what I did wrong, but the recipe just did not work for me!  In a frantic attempt to thicken the paint, I added a whole tub of custard powder AND a packet of icing sugar!  So no paint, but a very sweet and starchy custard... :)

Oh well, I think the boy still enjoyed stirring it, and then sloshing it about all over the kitchen floor (this is where my huge Cath Kidston oiled tablecloth really came into its own!).  Here are a few pictures, you can judge for yourselves whether or not it was worth the considerable effort!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

PP Survivors United

A few weeks ago now I went to Birmingham to spend a day with Action (on) Postpartum Psychosis.  This charity has grown from an academic-led research participants network a decade ago, into now an amazing organisation providing much-needed information and peer support to mums and their families.

A diagnosis of Postpartum Psychosis (PP) often comes completely out-of-the-blue.  At a time when you "should" be feeling nothing but overwhelming joy in your longed-for baby.  While the new mum is going out of her mind, her family will likely be thinking and fearing the worst: will she ever recover? When will she leave psychiatric hospital?  Who is going to look after the baby?  How will life ever be the same again?

Psychiatric crisis teams are, understandably, centred on the new mother.  Over-stretched NHS resources are all focused on treating the psychosis and minimising risks to mother and baby.  Treatment is intensive, and professional thoughts have not yet turned to the partner, and wider family.   But upon hearing that your loved one, the mother of your child, has been diagnosed with psychosis the first thing many partners need is simple information.  This is where an organisation like APP can make a world of difference.  If I google "postpartum psychosis", fortunately, the first two pages of search results are filled with charities, healthcare and parenting organisations offering factual information on the condition.  It's not until further down on page 4 and beyond that the scary "baby killer / maternal suicide" stories dominate.  This is due, in large part, to the tireless effort of APP and others who seek to inform, educate and support.  Without these organisations, families and carers would be left to fear the worst.

I know this first hand.  It turns out that during my time as an inpatient at a Mother & Baby Unit, my family were helped immeasurably by the online peer support forum provided by APP.  My husband had found a network of helpful souls, who understood exactly what he was going through and were more than willing to help and guide him through my illness, hour by hour, day by day.  They gave him practical advice on how best to support me at the MBU, what to expect in terms of the illness and recovery, and how to look after himself too.  They were with him through it all: my trips to A&E for infection, my refusals to eat, my psychotic hallucinations and fears.  When my husband was going through hell on earth, they gave him hope that he (we) would come out the other side.  And they were absolutely right.

A few weeks after my discharge I read the discussion thread (which went on for dozens of forum pages!) and was just amazed by how kind and supportive everyone had been.  I wished then that I could thank each and every one of those forum users, whose avatar names will stay with me forever.

Turns out, a year later, that I was going to be given this chance!

The volunteers' day, on 26 April 2014 at the Barberry mental health centre in Birmingham, was a chance for staff, trustees and "survivors" (and their families) to come together for a few hours.  To learn more about PP, the work of the charity, the different roles that volunteers can play - and simply to share their stories and meet others who just "get it".  It was also the largest gathering of PP survivors ever to take place under one roof!

I wasn't alone in feeling nervous on the train up to Birmingham.  We were all unsure how the day would unfold, and whether it might all get a little too harrowing.  Yes, it was an emotional experience.  I cried a few times during the day.  But I am so very glad that I went.  Remembering our psychotic experiences was never going to be easy, but (for me at least) talking about it openly, in such a supportive and understanding environment, has helped me to make a little more sense of it all.  For example, when I said I was having trouble fully trusting my senses again, and being nervous of another brain malfunction, my words were met with empathetic nods and "I feel that way too!"s.  Just knowing I wasn't alone, that I wasn't the only one to have trouble dealing with the aftermath of a psychosis, gave me more confidence on myself.

I am keen to "pay forward" the help that my family received - to be more active on the peer support forum, to raise some funds (more on my "Purple Party" plans in a future post!), and to help the regional coordinator in London reach as many local health professionals and networks as possible.  There is lots still to do in terms of taking our "lived experience" to groups such as midwives, GPs and health visitors.  There are still too many examples of misunderstanding and misinformation around PP.  And survivors of PP are uniquely well-placed to help with this.  Thanks to the day in Birmingham, and the tireless work of APP, I now know much more clearly how I can help with this.

(Thanks to APP for the use of these images)

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Sunday lunch at Kensington Palace Orangery

If you were to stroll through Hyde Park on a sunny spring day, in the right direction, ignoring the crowds, you might think you were indeed strolling through a country estate's deer park.  All you may see are trees, grasses and dogs.

The illusion would soon leave you when you hit the Diana Fountain, and the hordes of tourists.  But if you wanted to maintain the Pride and Prejudice vibe you could do a lot worse than heading straight through the sunbathers, towards Kensington Palace's Orangery.  This is a gem of a pit-spot: not all that more expensive than the park cafes, with nicer food and a beautiful setting.  The boy, the husband and I enjoyed a delicious spring lunch on the terrace, overlooking the formal gardens and feeling very much as if we were at Downton Abbey.  There is a decent children's menu, high chairs, and all the amenities (playgrounds, fountains, boating) of Hyde Park and Kensington Palace Gardens right by.   We would highly recommend it!

I'm linking this up to Coombe Mill's fantastic Country Kids linky - thanks for having another interloping urban post!
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Who cares? Tracing accountability for fixing mental health care

I caught up with Claudia Hammond's wonderful "All In The Mind" radio programme this morning.  They were discussing the funding crisis in mental health care in England.  Many problems and issues were raised: from the lack of crisis care beds, through to nonexistent youth services and a postcode lottery of care.  But not one of the policy makers interviewed seemed to offer either a solution or, indeed, a sense of responsibility over the current state of affairs.  Norman Lamb (Liberal Democrat MP and coalition health minister) professes to be "angry" about the state of mental health services, but claims he is powerless. Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Health) has met with mental health charities and service users, and has claimed to want "parity of esteem" between physical and mental health care... And yet.  And yet...

Who is in charge?  Who can make the changes so desperately needed?

The NHS in England is structured in such a way as to make personal responsibility for budget size and allocation nigh-on impossible.

According to government ministers on last night's programme, the responsibility lies with the body now known as "NHS England".  Ok, great.  They have a website, surely I can find out on there who is responsible?  A frustrating hour later it is clear that NHS England is about as well organised and structured as my toddler's playroom.  I counted no fewer than nine different organisational structure diagrams, and not one of these was linked up coherently to another.  There was no sense of who, for crying out who, was actually in charge of allocating funding to mental health.  We know that NHS England is mandated to both commission health services directly and to assist and support local Clinical Commissioning Groups (the heirs to PCTs).  It receives its mandate (its objectives) from no fewer than ten separate "frameworks and agreements" - only one of which, helpfully, is called "the mandate".

NHS development has, over its sixty year life, been piecemeal.  And the (dis)organisational structure of NHS England is the result.  They embody the latest in a succession of "modernisations" - which have all resulted in not one person or team being held accountable for the current state of mental health care.  Who knew, but apparently it is entirely modern and right that no one person should ever be accountable for such a large budget and such large responsibilities.

So, I guess we have to go to the governing "Board".  There appears from the NHS England website to be around 15 members, with a variety of management-babble-speak job titles to suit their impressive CVs.  Could it be that this committee, this round table, are the culprits/saviours of our mental health care?

I list the Board members below, as found on the NHS England website on 7 May 2014, together with their twitter handles when given.

Chairman of NHS England
Sir Malcolm Grant CBE

Chief Executive
Simon Stevens (in role from 1 April 2014)

Non-executive directors:
Ed Smith
Ciaran Devane (@ciarandevane)
Margaret Casely-Hayford
Dame Moira Gibb
Lord Victor Adebowale

Executive Directors
Professor Sir Bruce Keogh (Chief Medical Officer)
Jane Cummings (Chief Nursing Officer) (@JaneMCummings)
Bill McCarthy (National Director: Policy)
Dame Barbara Hakin (Chief Operating Officer / Deputy Chief Executive)
Rosamond Roughton (National Director: Commissioning Development)
Paul Baumann (Chief Financial Officer)
Tim Kelsey (National Director for Patients & Information) (@tkelsey1)
Karen Wheeler (National Director: Transformation and Corporate Operations).

It is surely within the bounds of the Board's impressive capabilities to fix mental health care.  They have stated their mission quite clearly (for an NHS organisation!) and it is clear that better mental health care not only fits their mission but is required by it.

On their measures of success, mental health care services is an obvious investment: mental illness is a leading cause of mortality and morbidity (especially in the under-65s); and there are established, evidence-based, cost-effective, treatments ready to be commissioned.

So, come on NHS England.... Stop messing around with further discussion documents and vacuous press releases (got to love this one, published in March to coincide with the launch of "parity of esteem", which talks gamely of "concordats" and "leadership").  Just get on and FIX things.  Please. 

Post-script: I have just signed up for "NHS Citizen", a new platform for engagement with NHS England. Have a look here.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

In praise of children's centres

Since we were discharged from the Mother & Baby Unit, a place where the boy and I have always been encouraged to go is our local Children's Centre.  We are lucky to have several within walking distance of us (the joy of living in densely-populated central London!).  At four months old, the boy enjoyed a free course of baby massage.  Now, at the grand age of 18 months, he enjoys the messy play, arts and crafts, and the well-equipped garden.

I guess the target market for this council-funded service are families who maybe wouldn't attend a fee-paying playgroup and who may not have much space for playing at home.  But they are used just as much (if not more!) by families of all backgrounds.  The regular activities organised by these centres seem designed to encourage interaction between adults and children, and to develop language, sharing skills and other foundations before children start school.

As a new mum recently recovered from severe mental illness, I found it a sanctuary. 

This morning, as the boy darted to and from the play garden to the art easel and the water tray, I reflected on how lucky we are to have these places.  When local councils are having to find budget savings, lets hope these centres remain protected.  Investment in the early years really does seem to pay dividends further down the line.  And if families can be helped to play together, then hopefully they will stay together too. 

I laughed (ruefully) when I heard that a nearby council had recently given £17,000 to a local park to purchase dog agility equipment.  Really?  Don't dogs enjoy the park regardless? I thought of how far that money could have gone at a children's centre... I realise that dog owners are tax payers too - but don't our representatives have a responsibility to allocate our money according to wider societal benefits?  Agile dogs or happy kids?  I know what I'd vote for...

Domestic goddess chicken nuggets

I was given Nigella Lawson's "Feast" cookbook years ago.  I had not long left home to make my way in London, living in a bedsit and surviving on bagels and boxes of cereal.  I remember reading her "Ritzy Chicken Nuggets" recipe and thinking...
"One day I will be the kind of woman who buys buttermilk."
"One day I will live in a proper house, and feed my family things that have been lovingly marinated in a proper fridge for several days."

Well, dear friends, that day has finally come.

It was time to put this legendary recipe to the test. 

The ingredients list is ridiculously simple:
- chicken breasts (1 per serving)
- a tub of buttermilk (enough to sludge them all in - and I've learned from baking that if you can't find buttermilk, full-fat plain yoghurt is just fine)
- Ritz crackers (Goldfish crackers or similar would also do)
- Oil for frying (I used sunflower).

And that's it.

I started by following Nigella's instructions to beat down the chicken with a rolling pin (do this inside a plastic bag, to save your kitchen from raw chicken splatter) and cut each breast into about 8 strips.  All you then need to do is find a suitable bag or tub into which to put the chicken bits and the buttermilk, and leave to marinate in the fridge for several days.

(Of course, I couldn't quite leave it there - so I added a heaped teaspoon of the husband's Steak Rub, essentially a mix of smoked salt, pepper, smoked paprika and a hint or chilli.)

The marinating started on Friday afternoon.  On Sunday evening I was ready to get my fry on.  The Ritz crackers (I used the whole box) were pounded down into crumbs, with an uneven crumb being the goal.  I then took each chicken piece and coated liberally in the crumbs, while heating about a 1cm of oil over a very high heat.  Make sure all small children and animals are safely out of the way for this bit!  You may also want to open all the windows at this point!

I then carefully placed the nuggets in the smouldering hot oil.  They literally took 2 mins on each side to reach a state of golden fried perfection: crispy on the outside, beautifully soft and tender on the inside.

We served them piled high, with just a simple homemade herby coleslaw and cos lettuce.  I have to admit this was as fine a Sunday night tea as I've ever produced!

I'm sharing this over at Honest Mum's

Tasty Tuesdays on