In October 2014, I had the opportunity to have an interchange within the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership (AWP) NHS Trust. I must say it was one of the most interesting experiences in my life. The Trust covers a wide variety of hospitals and community outpatient centres, together with other specialist services.
Prior to my arrival and together with the local coordinator, we agreed that during my 2 weeks in Bristol, I should visit and work with 3 different specialised units: Recovery Unit, Crisis Unit as well as Early Intervention Unit. These choices reflect the absence of such services in my home town, Porto, Portugal.
After some days working in the NHS I was surprised by how different the Psychiatry practice in United Kingdom was from the one practised in Portugal. Among others, I could understand one main difference. In Portugal, psychiatry is still centred in big hospitals and the practice is not as focused on community services like I was able to see in the United Kingdom.
In the United Kingdom I discovered a different way of working in Psychiatry. Patients could live in their houses carrying on with their lives and still receive psychiatric care. That was a totally different paradigm. Do not get me wrong, in Portugal we also want to avoid getting patients into wards but there is not a single psychiatry community service like the ones I was able to work in while in Bristol. Social workers, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists working side by side using technology and empathy to reach their patients was truthfully an inspirational insight for me.
Some people told me the British people are cold and formal. My experience allows me to disagree. As far as I can tell I cannot imagine a more humane psychiatric service as the ones I was able to visit. Everyone was nice to everyone and I was very well received and immediately integrated in every single unit.
I was also able to attend to the local trainees` training program where I met many interesting people and where I discussed and exchanged many ideas about Psychiatry. A true experience of networking where I learned a lot.
What can I say about Bristol and my hosts there? They made me feel like part of the Family from the first day. I would not believe, one month before, that I would love two weeks of cold and rainy weather. My hosts are responsible for that and the city of Bristol did the rest, with its music and fresh cultural scene. In fact there is a lot to do in Bristol if you can manage to stay out of the nightlife!
With this being my first exchange experience, the only thing I am able to say is that I cannot wait for the next one to come.
Fernando Ochoa Leite
Hospital de Magalhães Lemos, Porto, Portugal
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Dr. Lars Fhulrot and his family, Kevin Holmes and the Family, all the staff of Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust for their hospitality and support.
Picture showing (left to right): Mariana Pinto da Costa (EFPT President), Fernando Ochoa Leite, Kevin Holmes (host) enjoying some ‘down time’ in Bristol