Occupational Therapy is keeping people well in Worthing

Occupational therapists in Worthing are playing a pivotal role supporting people with their mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Occupational Therapy (OT) Team at Shepherd House in Worthing, which is run by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, has had to come up with new and innovative ways to provide vital support at this challenging time.

Occupational therapy is about taking a 'whole person' approach to healthcare, looking at both the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals and providing practical support to help them overcome barriers that might prevent them from carrying out the activities they would like to. 

The restrictions imposed by the outbreak of COVID-19 have created additional barriers for many people but OTs are well placed to come up with creative solutions to help people navigate this challenging time. 

Sussex Partnership provides mental health and learning disability services across Sussex and Hampshire, and employs 238 occupational therapists across its services. 

Natalie Rowlands, Occupational Therapist at Shepherd House, explains, "In this time of change we have been adapting our ways of working to fit in with the advice and guidelines to and ensure we keep everyone safe while continuing to provide the support people need. We are finding that a lot of our services users are becoming healthier than ever at this time. We have daily morning smoothies followed by group exercises lead by members of the team. We have a really lovely garden at Shepherd House which provides plenty of opportunities for people to enjoy gardening and relaxing outside while observing social distancing.

"Our arts and crafts groups are still running, we've enjoyed bowls on the lawn, quiz and movies nights and even organised personalised relaxation sessions. We know this is a time of extra pressure for everyone and so we have thought hard about how we can introduce wellbeing activities for people to enjoy within the lockdown restrictions. 

People can use the gym facilities when they like and are using their allocated leave to enjoy their daily exercise along the seafront. 

"Service users are able to enjoy the gym facilities we have on site and get out for a walk each day. Our role as occupational therapists is to consider the wellbeing of the whole person we are working with and while the current situation has provided additional barriers, we have been able to overcome them."

The team have put together isolation packs to help service users who are having to keep separate. The packs include self-care items, treats and mindful activities. 

Service users at Shepherd House enjoyed creating a piece of colourful rainbow artwork to display in the front window, joining homes across the county with brightly coloured window decorations to show their support for the NHS. 

There are lots of ways occupational therapists are working differently. Gemma Dorer, Professional Lead OT explains, "Our occupational therapists working in inpatient units will be receiving tablets to support the use of digital alternatives to normal working practises. This includes virtual home visits and assessments so that therapists can work from home while still providing support to people on our wards. The tablets will be available for service users to access and will be loaded up with useful health apps and relaxation tools. Importantly, they will also provide a platform for service users to keep in touch with family and loved ones. "

Like a lot of health professionals, OT's are also taking on new roles to offer support at this time such as mental health practitioner work, support to adult community services and providing additional support to our dementia wards. 

The specific work around COVID-19 is in addition to the normal day to day work of the OT teams who are continuing their one to one work with patients where they look at either meaningful activity they would like to do to work towards their recovery and discharge, or around distraction and coping strategies to use on the ward or at home. 

For more information about how you can take care of your mental wellbeing during this difficult time please click here.   

To support our service users and staff, our NHS charity Heads On is raising funds to create care packages. You can find out more and donate here.