Matt Brayford works as a Mental Health Leadership and Succession Programme Manager at Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW). He completed the FNF Digital Scholarship programme 2022/2023.
My name is Matt Brayford. I have been a mental health nurse since 2014. Prior to nursing, I worked in the Probation Service and Homeless Services. I had seen how hard it can be for disadvantaged people to access and engage in health services.
In late 2021 I was feeling lost in terms of how I could progress in my career. I had been struggling with my confidence in work due to experiencing a panic attack whilst presenting. I felt like I didn’t ‘fit in’ within leadership culture. I saw many leaders as being quite ‘hardened’. I came from a more emotionally driven, values-based position. I felt that because of this, others perceived me as weak.
When I applied for an FNF Leadership Scholarship I was feeling that I had reached the limits of my capability. I was considering leaving nursing, although had no idea what else I would do.
I thought the scholarship programme would help me to improve my confidence and manage my anxiety. Prior to the interview I felt like I knew I wouldn’t be successful in gaining a place on such a ‘prestigious’ leadership programme. I presented a project that I was starting to lead on. This was the development of a ‘Carer Psychosis Education Programme for Wales’. The programme would contain both a one-to-one resource and an online element. I’m so passionate about this project, I found it easy to present.
I was quite shocked to be offered a ‘Digital’ leadership scholarship. I’m a real ‘people’ person and didn’t feel I had an understanding or background in digital health. I have since learnt through the scholarship that being a digital nurse is ALL about connecting with people (patients, professionals, carers, all stakeholders) to enable digital resources, such as my carer education programme, to work for the people who use it. I have learnt so much and am so glad I was offered as digital scholarship.
Highlights of the scholarship programme
I started the scholarship with two big questions. 1. ‘How can we create meaningful improvement in the NHS when we can’t always staff essential services?’. 2. ‘How can we gather the data to effectively understand the problems in our services?’
Both questions were answered on day one of my first scholarship experience, attending the CHIME Digital Leadership Academy. By the end of the academy, I realised that digital transformation isn’t an ‘option’, it is essential to the continued existence of the NHS. Through thinking we can improve services without understanding our data, we are effectively working in the dark!
It would be impossible for me to get across all of the amazing experiences this scholarship has provided me with in this short interview. To summarise, The Kings Fund ‘Stepping into your Authority’ course taught me to value the ‘emotional power’ I had carried with me since my time working in homeless services and use it to influence change, rather than suppress it. I now recognise that through trying to appear a ‘hardened leader’ I wasn’t being authentic. This contributed to my ‘imposter syndrome’ and caused anxiety.
Through attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) ‘Personal Presence and Impact’ course I learnt so much how I am around other people and how this can lead to my confidence or anxiety. This happened a week before I presented the Welsh Carer Psychosis Education Programme at the annual National Early Intervention in Psychosis Forum held by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in London. This was my first presentation at a conference. It went better than I could have imagined. I had a healthy amount of nerves, but not anxiety or panic! I have actually started to enjoy presenting!
I was able to attend the CHIME digital leadership conference in San Antonio, Texas. This was an amazing experience! I was able to learn so much more about digital health. I learnt about some inspiring projects taking place in the US, including how Seattle Children’s Hospital, used data to understand and address inequalities in provision between white and black children. They are now labelled an ‘anti-racist’ hospital. I left this conference inspired to develop anti-discriminatory services in the UK.
More than anything, however, it is the people I have met who have made the scholarship so life-changing! I have formed life-long connections with inspiring people, working in all corners of the NHS. I have received great support from the Welsh digital leads and my personal senior leadership mentor and have got to know many other senior leaders, including some of those working in the Welsh Chief Nurses Office. Tapping into their wisdom and experience has been incredible!
The impact of my scholarship learning on clinical practice
The scholarship has really supported the progress of the Carer Education Programme for Wales. The project has become known across mental health services in the UK and the wider NHS in Wales. Digital Health and Care Wales are considering including links to the programme in the new Welsh NHS App. We have developed an initial draft of a ‘What is Psychosis’ module which is being co-produced with carers and services users through a series of improvement cycles.
Through the scholarship I have taken up a second digital project which has led me to optimising our use of our Electronic Patient Record system. We adapted data points to ensure we are measuring access to interventions, waiting times and outcome monitoring data appropriately.
We are now working towards a way to use business intelligence software to cross reference service level data points with ethnicity data, to find ways to make the service more accessible. As half of our service users are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, this work is so important! We have high numbers of service users who are seeking asylum, many who are homeless. Until we find ways to understand or service data, we can’t even begin to ask the right questions to enable us to identify and overcome systemic discrimination.
This work will not only improve the experience of service users and carers, but will improve prognosis and the likelihood of recovery; reduce the likelihood of relapse and hospital admissions; and result in fewer people needing long-term mental health services.
I am so glad I threw myself into the programme. I have learnt so much and feel I am still at the beginning of a really exciting journey that will probably last throughout the rest of my career.
If you would like to apply for one of our Leadership Programmes or Scholarships, find out more here.