‘There’s an extraordinary group of people who work at SLaM’

10.09.14 Categories: Staff stories, Supporter stories

We met with Chief Executive of SLaM, Matthew Patrick, to reflect back on his first year in post, and discuss his commitment to ending the stigma around mental illness and transforming mental health care

An oft-quoted statistic states that one in four of us will experience a mental health difficulty in our lives. Dr Matthew Patrick, Chief Executive of South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM), says he prefers ‘the one-in-one statistic. Pretty much all of us at some time will have contact with people who are in emotional or psychological difficulty – and I include myself in that.’

But, Matthew adds, there’s still a huge taboo around mental health. And this is reflected not just in an unwillingness to talk about it, but also in the way services have been designed in the past.

‘Mental distress is scary,’ he says. ‘It’s difficult. Experiencing that loss of control is hard and can be very frightening. As a society, we try to keep disturbing or difficult things at a distance. It’s much easier if we can create a sense of “us and them”. But these boundaries are artificial – and setting out to dissolve them is one of the most important things we can do about stigma.’

Hands-on mental health

Matthew is no stranger to SLaM. He trained as an adult psychiatrist at the Maudsley and also at Bethlem Royal Hospital, and still practices alongside his chief executive responsibilities. 

‘I’d like to think that all of us are motivated by wanting to make a positive difference,’ he says. ‘Mental health is a really privileged occupation because you get to talk to people about the most personal aspects of their lives. I’m interested in people and human relationships, and understanding how and why that goes wrong.’

One of the biggest challenges since he arrived has been getting to grips with the sheer size of the Trust and its huge range of activities – 5,000 staff working on more than 150 sites, of which four are the hospitals and the others are community-based. In fact, 80 per cent of the Trust’s work is actually outside hospitals and in the community.

The importance of fundraising 

Fundraising is vital to keep these services going in an increasingly tough funding regime. ‘It makes a huge difference to what we can contribute,’ says Matthew. ‘There are technicalities around the way in which health is funded which has seen mental health funding have a reduction in real terms over recent years. I think that’s a real concern. 

‘At the same time, changes to welfare and social care are leading to a rise in crisis presentations to mental health services. And we have to deliver perhaps the largest transformation in health services that we have seen for a long time, in terms of this move out of the hospital, into community and closer to people’s homes.’

It will be a challenge, Matthew says, but if anyone can do it, SLaM staff can. 

‘There’s an extraordinary group of people who work in this organisation,’ he says. ‘They are incredibly committed, creative, entrepreneurial and dedicated to mental health. We have treatment teams, community mental health teams, crisis services, liaison psychiatry services and child mental health services provided in community settings. We have fantastic health projects for people who would never normally gain access to mental health services, and we are doing great work around community wellbeing. We are a part of the communities we serve.’ 

You can help SLaM provide outstanding mental health services in your community. Find out how to support our work.