Life swapStaff at a mental health trust had two chief executives for a day when John, a service user with Down’s syndrome, took the top job as the second part of a ‘life swap.’

John, 66, from Stevenage, who also has early onset dementia, was shown the ropes by Tom Cahill, chief executive of Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (HPFT), spending the day in Cahill’s office and meeting staff.

Cahill, who runs HPFT, picked John up in the morning and they travelled to his office at the trust’s headquarters in St Albans. The pair spent time in Cahill’s office and also had a look around some of the other offices, meeting staff members. 

“John came to see where I worked and I showed or explained to him some of the things I do in my role. He also met some of my colleagues. He interacted well with everyone and he seemed to enjoy the experience,” said Cahill.

The visit was part of a life swap which, earlier in the year, saw Cahill spend the day with John at his day service centre in Stevenage before stopping in at his care home where he lives with 24-hour support.

“Seeing John in his day centre, his home and then in my office reminded me never to underestimate the importance continuity of support, familiarity of environment and structure have on an individual’s wellbeing,” said Cahill.

The life swap gave Cahill the chance to see for himself how a service user spends their day and how their illness or condition can impact on their daily life, something that he feels is vital if the Trust is to provide care that is truly centred on the individual.

“It goes beyond visiting a ward or service,” he said. “It gives you a unique perspective of how someone like John lives his life on a day to day. It reminded me of just how important the little things are and the impact they have on people quality of life.”