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The model I created will be a lasting legacy

In August 2017, the NHS commissioned myself and 2 other amazing humans I work with (through the national charity) to design and develop a model of care that is primarily focused on mentoring children and young people (C&YP) between the ages of 10-24 living with sickle cell. It was commissioned specifically in the boroughs of City of London and Hackney. For someone who thrives on change, my life choices and goals have been primarily my responsibility but I know I have a significant indecisive personality when it comes to taking major risks or making a difficult decision. So often times, when I am faced with major ambivalence, I would prefer people I trust (mentors if you like) to make those decisions for me or at least support and lead me down the path of clarity. Mentoring Think about who a mentor is to you. People have so many definitions of who a mentor is and what mentoring means to them. I have all kinds of mentors. Some of the approaches are formal and structured (specifically my career mentors) others probably just adhoc and informal- many of the people I look up to as mentors are actually totally oblivious of the level of inspiration they fill me with. Some, close loved ones. But heath mentoring? What is that?

The Department of Health (DoH) defines health mentoring as:

…a relationship between an experienced and a less experienced person in which the mentor provides guidance, advice, support and feedback to the mentee. It can be a focused, planned relationship where the mentor assists the mentee achieve greater self-awareness, identify and plan alternatives and initiate and evaluate actions. Mentoring relationships have a clear start, evolution and ending. Health mentoring has become a recommended social model of care endorsed by Public Health England, one primarily aimed at peer support. The model highlights this type of peer support promotes better health and wellbeing for people living with long-term health conditions but the evidence behind the outcomes is still very theoretical. That said, there are small pockets of research going on globally to identify and pin down the benefits of the model. It’s a difficult one to isolate health benefits (singularly) to just because people are usually healthy or well due to multi factorial reasons. (see HRQoL) However, it is usually considered an enhancer to a combination of a number of other coping strategies. Now one of the things I enjoy about life is creating from scratch. Creativity brings out a number of different emotions for me. I enjoy being given blank pieces of paper to formulate, to develop. It’s why I enjoy jobs no one has ever done before. I make it mine and I create strategies (that work) for a population and deliver them. It’s a passion of mine and when there is passion, you are likely to succeed, if you are driven.

I believe everyone can be anything as long as they have some level of logical reasoning and creativity. So redesigning and transforming services, developing strategies/ policies and implementing them is something I have been doing for several years in career and so I was excited after being approached to look out for this (health mentoring) model.

And because it was a fairly new model, there was essentially a need to make this model become a ‘proof of concept’, one acceptable to the health care commissioners and funders, to enable them see the value for money and return on investment, the importance of sustainability and the reduction in service demands for heamoglobinoptahy services - but more importantly, the outcomes for C&YP and their parents who are at the center of it all. So my team and I got to work and essentially designed a model. I was made lead mentor for the programme. I had the leadership skills but I didn’t have a template to work with. There wasn’t a lot on the Internet or in reality to provide an opportunity to replicate something, anything, so it was always going to be a case of ‘inventing the wheel’.

We soon began set up processes, policies and operating procedures. We designed our model of care including articulating quite clearly the outcomes we wanted to see from these C&YP who suffer the same condition as us. Their goals and their well-being was our priority.

With my experience of working with the NHS and the combined experiences of my two colleagues who had legal and business development backgrounds respectively and a wealth of experience mentoring young people, we knew we could do it. We started to mentor children and young people in face-to-face sessions. Sometimes jointly with their parents specifically the under 15s. It soon became an issue of capacity given that I work full time, run other projects nationally and personally, run my charity and of course and more importantly, I have a life outside all these things. I started to resign from different roles and functions that I was involved with before the work started. For example, I resigned from being the volunteer coordinator for the Sickle Cell Society, a role I led on (voluntarily) for more than 2 years. I couldn’t support a cause I cared much about- led by Action4London - a cause that supports the most vulnerable communities in London and I also had to take a back seat from the Board of my support group, Solace. I left my social book club, stopped attending the poetry cafe, reduced creativity, socialising began to decline, I actually travelled less. Even time with my partner was compromised but he is my biggest encourager so he didn’t mind. He just nudges in the background to keep going recognising when he needs to stop me for my own good. Commitment; I was committed to making the pilot a success- and essentially the measure of success was very much focused on the happiness, considerably good health, better quality of life and achievement of goals for these kids. The business development side was important but secondary. I mean it became primary towards the later part of the year when other boroughs started requesting business cases and we had to complete the evaluation report for commissioners. And because each child and young person are so different with very unique health challenges and life goals, it was exciting yet interesting learning about their challenges, their resilience and determination to be better at everything and of course I had to create different techniques for each and every one of them.

To be honest, these upcoming millennials are incredibly brilliant. They amaze me. They taught me a lot about my own self. But considering how different they all are, I realised the golden thread was that they all just wanted to stay well and pain free and ultimately, have a better quality of life. Our mutual health experience was what I used as a model for the programme and I hoped that would enable them see that life is totally what you make it to be. Anyway, so I started squeezing sessions in after work most weekdays and mentoring full time on the weekends. It soon became incredibly important that I had to adopt a booking system to stay organized to be able to joggle work, my children (the mentees) the business development side of things, my own health and well-being, my personal and social relationships, travel, my self-development, projects and other personal pursuits. 24 hours in a day was never enough to do all my work. The benefit from this was that I became super organised. All that admin after a session, ah! There is nothing as dreadful as administration when you just need to practice. I am a writer, I shouldn’t complain, but admin is boring! However, when you are dealing with children, its absolutely necessary and paramount – safeguarding kids is one of my many values.

A mentoring meeting is typically held in a café, library, and other social