Laura Brookes is the Head of Mental Health Transformation and Integration for  Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. The Trust is the lead provider for mental health, learning disabilities and autism across the Black Country.

Here, she tells us more about her role and how partnership working is key to the design and delivery of services, based on what is needed most by people in Walsall.

“As the lead provider, we receive all the funding for mental health services in the Black Country. This means we can then work in partnership much more effectively to develop mental health services across multiple organisations.

“We recognise that each of the places within the Black Country are different and that’s why being part of Walsall Together is so important. It means we are not only able to ensure mental health is on the agenda, but that we can work with our partners and citizens to make sure we are developing and delivering services based on local need.

“We have been doing a lot of work to understand what the needs of Walsall people are, in particular in relation to prevention and early intervention when it comes to mental health”.

“It won’t be a surprise to anyone to know that there are waiting lists for mental health services and the demand is the highest it has ever been. This is only going to get worse with the cost-of-living crisis and workforce issues around recruitment and retention of staff in the profession”.

“What we want and need to do is try and support people earlier on. When we hear from local people and representatives of local communities, very often they say that what they are told by mental health services is they're not unwell enough.

“We really want to change that narrative and help people to understand that actually, you’re not unwell enough to be under a specialist mental health service, but there is other support out there that can help you”.

Working with local voluntary and community organisations to understand what they are already doing to support mental health and where as a partnership we can add value is a key part of Laura’s role. This might be offering more sustainable funding or working more closely to offer connections into statutory services aimed at prevention and early intervention.

“We know only 20% of health outcomes are influenced by clinical care, 50% is influenced by social, economic and environmental factors and then 30% by lifestyle choices. Ultimately, if we can make an impact on the social, economic and environmental factors, then that is how we can really make a difference.

“As part of winter planning last year, we allocated around £135,000 to support some of the work the voluntary and community groups were doing to help people with their mental health during the winter months. This is something we want to ensure happens on a longer-term basis and through planning we have made sure there is investment to sustain some of those initiatives going forward, and this is something we aim to continue”.

Laura is a mental health nurse by background and as such has a really good understand of working side by side with people who have experienced mental health illnesses and the impact on their families and carers. Prior to her current role she has held various managerial and clinical leadership roles, including the development of community teams.

Laura was born and bought up in the Black Country and loves nothing more than exploring what it has to offer at the weekend.

“I've got two pugs who take up a lot of my free time and along with my husband we spend a lot of our weekends out walking with them. We love exploring where the various canal paths take us to or visiting a National Trust - always with a pint and bag of scratchings as the end goal of course!

“We also have season tickets for West Bromwich Albion, which is ironic given I live close enough to the Wolves ground to hear them playing and have to walk past to catch the train to the Hawthorns.

“I really enjoy gardening and whilst I don’t have a big space, I try and make the most of what I have and have started growing my own fruit and vegetables over the last couple of years.

“I am also a HUGE Billy Connolly fan and particularly enjoy his travel programmes. So much so, that despite being terrified of heights, I followed his lead and climbed the Sydney Harbour bridge while travelling in Australia for a month”.