Business School

Using Lean Thinking to improve experiences of mental health service users

A team of researchers based in the Business School at the University of Huddersfield recently teamed up with the South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (SWYPFT) to take part in a year-long project to review the referral process for mental health issues. SWYPFT are a specialist Foundation Trust that provides community, mental health and learning disability services to the people of Barnsley, Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield. Over 1 million people live within SWYPFT’s catchment area, across urban and rural communities from a range of diverse backgrounds.

Creating a single point of access

Focusing on providing an effective and efficient service, SWYPFT created Single Point of Access (SPA) teams to act as the first point of call for anyone wanting to discuss mental health issues or access services. As SPA teams operate autonomously, there had been perceived variations in service quality, resource availability and some concerns around ineffective and inefficient ways of working.

Using Lean Thinking to improve services

Supported by funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the project team wanted to identify which parts of the existing processes worked well, and also look at areas which could be improved to make sure people were receiving the most appropriate care and advice throughout the referral pathway. Informed by the principles of Lean Thinking, the project team, led by Professor David Bamford and comprising of Siu Cheng, Mary Duggan, Benjamin Dehe and Marina Papalexi, identified a set of key objectives for the research to focus on:

  1. Understand how the Single Point of Access (SPA) teams differed from each other across the Care Pathway
  2. Identify what worked well and what could be improved
  3. Determine what could be changed in order for the SPA teams to be more consistent, efficient and leaner

Collaborative workshops identify issues and solutions

Eight facilitated service improvement workshops were conducted across West Yorkshire, bringing together NHS personnel and Patient User Groups to examine the existing services in place and look at possible redesign ideas to improve future processes and experiences. The workshops highlighted a range of key concerns across the referral pathway, including the duplication of referral information and delays caused by missing information.

From these findings, it became clear that implementing a higher level of electronic communications by phone and email could address these problem points and improve both the decision making and signposting abilities of the SPA teams. In order to improve these processes and reduce the amount of time a referral takes, new policy and procedure guidelines have been developed with the SPA teams, complimented by a set of Key Performance Indicators and regular feedback forums to improve communications between teams.

To find out more about the research in this article, please contact:

Professor David Bamford –

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