Sarah Connery is Chief Executive at Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

What a year it has been! Whilst it has been a demanding and difficult year on many levels for the trust, NHS and everyone in our local community, I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to achieve in improving access to mental health support in the county.

Our staff have continued to be amazing and despite the challenges and increasing demand for support, they have shown compassion, dedication and gone over and above to deliver vital services for our local communities – whilst also finding new and innovative ways to improve.

I’m pleased to share some of the main highlights and look forward to even more in the forthcoming year.

I have to start with the positive impact the Mental Health Urgent Assessment Centre has had in supporting people since we opened in January. The centre is an alternative safe space for people to go in crisis, rather than busy A&E departments – which we know is not always the best place for people in mental health crisis.

We’ve supported over 700 people since launch and feedback from patients and our partners in A&E, police and ambulance services has been positive. We look forward to building on this further and expanding to more self-referrals very soon.

We’ve also been able to further invest in community groups and resources to support people in the community with the mental health wellbeing transformation programme and further expanded the Night Light Cafes across the county.

We’ve particularly concentrated on expanding in the East Coast and have a further five more cafes set to open in 2023. These are community spaces, hosted by volunteers, where people can go when they just need a chat and company -something we know many people find particularly helpful at this time of year.

Our Lincolnshire mental health helplines continue to offer vital support for anyone struggling -offering a listening ear, or help finding the best support for people’s needs. Anyone needing someone to speak to, or advice, can call the 24/7 helpline for free on 0800 001 4331. If you are a young person or family member and want some advice, you can call the Here4You advice line on 0800 234 6342, open 24/7.

We’ve also made it easier for people to access our services digitally and have new online self-referral chatbots for our talking therapy service steps2change, which has been used by 4,000 people already. We’re pleased to have also been able todeliver over 300 memory assessments virtually, as a more flexible approach to how people access our services.

Of course, you will have read about recruitment and demand challenges in the NHS both locally and nationally, and in that context, I should recognise that we know we have longer waits than we would like in some of our services. We’re working hard to find innovative ways to recruit and retain staff, as well as seeking further investment to bolster services, particularly in our children and young people and talking therapy services, which we hope will have a positive impact as we head into the New Year.

There is much to look forward to in the year ahead, including the opening of our new adult acute inpatient wards in Lincoln. I’m also pleased to share that we have been given the go ahead to progress with building a new mental health hub in Boston. This will enable us to create en-suite bedrooms, providing privacy and dignity rightly expected for our patients across all our inpatient wards.

I’d like to finally take the opportunity to thank the compassionate and dedicated staff we have working in LPFT and across the whole health and care system for consistently putting patients at the heart of everything they do.

The year 2021 has continued to be an immense challenge to the NHS, our staff and the services we provide.

Over the past year I have been truly struck by the incredible dedication and resilience of our staff to try and provide the very best care to our service users during the pandemic.

It is our ambition to create services that support people with mental illness, learning disabilities or autism to live well in their communities and to deliver the outstanding care that patients deserve.

This year seems to have gone by very quickly, and while the overall picture in the NHS and indeed our Trust continues to be challenging with increased demand for services, it has been humbling to see the innovative work that is taking place across the Trust.

Our services have once again been acknowledged locally, regionally and nationally for numerous awards and we are particularly proud of our shortlist for Mental Health Trust of the Year at the Health Service Journal Awards. Although we did not win, the achievement of being shortlisted two years in a row is, in itself, no mean feat.

This year we have started work on our new acute wards at Peter Hodgkinson Centre in Lincoln and the Norton Lea site in Boston – part of our £37m-plus scheme to improve patient environments.

We’re pleased that work on both sites is continuing to progress well and we look forward to seeing these completed over the next couple of years.

The Lincolnshire mental health helpline introduced last year continues to provide vital support to those struggling with their mental wellbeing. Anyone needing someone to speak to can call the 24/7 helpline on 0800 001 4331. The Lincolnshire Here4You advice line also provides emotional wellbeing and mental health advice for young people and their families and is open 24/7 on 0800 234 6342.

One of the achievements I am most proud of has been how we have worked closely with our partners in health, care and the voluntary sector to start to increase more support in our local communities for people struggling with their mental health. By introducing new roles and investing in local community groups we are able to better support people to access activities that will help them stay well.

The Crisis Cafes (or Night Light Cafes) currently operating in Lincoln continue to provide a warm welcome and peaceful environment for people to go and talk to trained volunteers face to face. Thanks to additional investment, the cafes will be extending to other areas of the county very soon, particularly on the east coast where we know it is more difficult to access community support. You can find out more about Lincoln’s Night Light Cafés on the Acts Trust website here.

The new year will see lots of exciting transformation and developments come to life, including a further expansion of the crisis care we can offer and we’re really looking forward to seeing these improvements making an impact in Lincolnshire.

I’m sure when I reflect again next year we will be in a very different place and I look forward to seeing how things develop.

I’d like to finally take the opportunity to thank the compassionate and dedicated staff we have working in LPFT and across the whole health and care system for consistently putting patients at the heart of everything they do. I’m sure you will all want to join me in thanking them for all they do.