Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

New buddy scheme supports people with learning disabilities in inpatient care

A new buddy scheme pairs up people with learning disabilities and autistic people detained in mental health hospitals with people who have experience of inpatient care.

The Buddies Project, which is run by Bild, the Restraint Reduction Network (RRN) and Reach Out, has paired up 24 people in hospital with a buddy in a bid to offer support to those who need it.

The buddies all have lived experience of being a hospital inpatient, which Bild says helps to ‘create friendships like no other’.

Kirsten, a Buddy Coordinator, says some people in mental health hospitals do not have friends and family that visit them, meaning most of the conversations they have are with staff members or other professionals within the hospital setting.

This can be an isolating experience, and the Buddies Project allows inpatients to speak to someone who understands the hospital environment but has no prejudice about their circumstances or control over them.

How does the Buddies Project work in practice?

Nursing staff on mental health wards identify people who are subject to high levels of restrictive practice such as long-term segregation. A buddy coordinator will then match a person in hospital with a buddy and set up a date and time for an online meeting.

These meetings typically last 50 minutes, and the person in hospital has complete control over the conversation and what to talk about. This can cover anything from life plans, gaming, favourite sports, and issues with other patients or life on the ward.

The buddy will call the person at the same time each week and they can continue receiving calls for as long as the person in hospital chooses.

People in hospital that have taken part in the Buddies Project say the scheme has allowed them to speak confidentially and meaningfully with their buddy, creating real friendships and bonds.

One person supported by the scheme said: “[I have] a new sense of hope for the future.” While another said: “[I have] a reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

Hope the buddy scheme could be expanded across the country

Currently, the buddy scheme operates exclusively in the West Midlands, but Ben Higgins, CEO of Bild, says he hopes the project could be expanded to other areas of the country.

Mr Higgins said: “We are delighted with the impact the Buddies Project has had in the West Midlands. Bild and the RRN believe people should live in ‘homes not hospitals’ and this project has provided a unique and personal link back to the community for those patients subject to long-term segregation and restrictions.

“The funding for this project ends in March 2024. As more hospitals realise the benefits of this project, we hope to be able to continue the Buddies Project beyond this point, helping to support even more autistic people and people with learning disabilities on their journey back into their communities.”

If you work for a Local Integrated Care Board (ICB) or a provider collaborative and would like to hear more, visit this page or contact Marie Willan at [email protected]

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