Reflecting our partnership commitment to mental health, we’re delighted to announce that Clinical Psychologist Dr Joanna (Jo) Levene has joined the South Notts ICP’s clinical leadership team.
Working alongside Dr Nicole Atkinson, Dr John Brewin and Dr Aamer Ali, Jo will bring her extensive understanding of working in mental health and driving integrated working to this new position.
Jo has a wealth of experience, having worked in health and social care across Nottinghamshire and the East Midlands for nearly 30 years. Her career has spanned NHS, local authority and voluntary sectors, 25 years of which have been focused on mental health.
Jo currently leads the Physical Health Psychology Team at Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (SFHFT) and John Eastwood Hospice, where the team works with patients with complex physical health problems, as well as providing support to staff to develop their psychological skills.
This is an area Jo is particularly passionate about, saying: “Like a lot of mental health professionals, I started working with a specific mental health focus, and over the years moved into palliative care, then into cancer services, and now lead the broader physical health psychology team.
“I think one of the best ways of describing the patient experience was from one of my patients, who described themselves as feeling like a Lego person. She said: ‘I go and see this specialist and he’s interested in this bit and I go and see another specialist and they’re interested in that bit, but no one seems interested in me as a whole person’. I believe in knowing people as a full person.
“If you think of a Venn diagram, then we know there’s this huge overlap in the middle where people with mental health problems have a higher incidence of physical health problems, and we know that people with long term physical health problems are at greatly increased risk of mental health problems.
“There’s a whole range of complex reasons for that, and it makes no sense for our systems to work in silos given this understanding. I think that, in the modern world, we need to move away from silo working, from seeing people as Lego people and just being interested in that arm or that leg. We need to understand the way people’s physical and mental health interact.”
Jo is also a lead for the City Step 4 Adult Mental Health Psychological Health Team, providing psychological assessment and therapy to adults with complex mental health needs, especially complex trauma. Jo views health and wellbeing as strongly embedded in a socioeconomic context and is keen to highlight and address structural inequalities as part of her work. “We know that childhood trauma or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) increase the risk of a whole range of poorer physical and mental health, economic and social outcomes. We also know that ACEs are more likely to occur where there is social and economic deprivation. I strongly believe that we need a system-level approach to tackling problems from both ends.
She is currently Macmillan Psychology Clinical Lead for the East Midlands Cancer Alliance, part of NHS England, and is passionate about delivering an integrated approach to healthcare, aiming to move ‘No Health Without Mental Health’ from policy to reality. Cancer is a good example of an area which is traditionally considered the domain of physical health services, but we have created a model for the East Midlands to address the psychosocial needs of people affected by cancer, which we know are considerable.Jo has also worked with the Mid-Trent Critical Care Network to deliver psychological skills training and supervision to Critical Care staff across the region.
Recently, Jo’s team has worked in close collaboration with the SFHFT senior leadership team to design and deliver a robust staff wellbeing programme in response to the pressures of COVID-19.
She explains: “I think the whole idea of the ICS, the ICP and the integration of services across organisations is moving away from the competitive environment of health and social care into really working in collaboration. That’s my hope – better collaboration across organisations but also across specialisms. This will deliver a better, more effective and more efficient service for patients.”
Jo is looking forward to working with a wide range of disciplines and organisational partners to understand and improve the health and social care needs of the South Notts ICP area, and regularly provides training on wellbeing and resilience to NHS colleagues.
She hopes to prioritise building psychologically safe and resilient organisations as part of clinical lead role, but this is not without its challenges, a fact that Jo is fully aware of.
“I think it’s challenging, and different individuals and organisations will be at different stages of how onboard they are with that,” she says. “But the key thing is building relationships, having conversations, and appreciating what’s important to people to individuals, communities and organisations.
“We need to understand how we can bring those priorities together and see where the commonalities are, but also identify the differences and work with them too. That’s where the Primary Care Networks come in. You have that very local intelligence which feeds into a broader picture. It’s about being able to listen to local needs and making sure there’s an equity of offer.”
Bearing this in mind, Jo is positive about the direction the South Notts ICP is taking and is determined to raise the profile of mental health and its relationship with physical health across the partnership, as well as working to improve mental health across the whole lifespan, from birth into older age.
“There’s some great work already happening across the South Notts patch, like the Primary Care Psychological Medicine, which started in Rushcliffe and is now working across South Nottinghamshire.
“That’s a great example of where we’ve linked the physical with the psychological so we don’t have people bouncing around services, enabling us to work intensively with people to improve their wellbeing.”
When she’s not working, Jo enjoys spending time with family and friends, especially if it involves eating good food! She dabbles in various exercise regimes to keep fit and has developed a love of online yoga during lockdown. Jo also volunteers in community activities and, when time allows, is a fan of watching musicals.