Meet Amy Manning, founder of S12 Solutions, an app and website, which together help mental health professionals efficiently complete Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) processes. Developed to replace the outdated paper processes used to organise MHA assessment teams, the innovations aim to minimise delays to assessments, reduce distress and risk for the person waiting, and reduce pressures for health and social care professionals in the mental health crisis care system. Read what Amy has to say about becoming the person doing things differently, the support that she has received from AHSNs and her advice for budding innovators.

Tell us about your innovation – what and why?

S12 Solutions is an app and a website that helps mental health professionals efficiently complete MHA processes and organise best fit doctors for MHA assessments. This helps to ensure that people are assessed by a team that understands their needs in a timely way. We have also replaced some of the paper processes associated with assessments with digital processes, which has made things more efficient and ensured that information is shared and stored securely. We are working with around 75-80% of mental health trusts in England, supporting around 6,500 users.

I am a social worker and an Approved Mental Health Professional. We assess people under the MHA in some of the most difficult times of their lives and assessments are sometimes delayed due to difficulties in finding doctors and outdated processes. I was convinced that there was a better way.

What was the ‘lightbulb’ moment?

I was setting up a MHA assessment for a person well known to mental health services who was having a relapse. They needed a MHA assessment as they were extremely distressed and quite aggressive.

A bed was available for this patient, but I couldn’t find two doctors to attend the assessment with me and I’d exhausted my paper list of doctors. I just sat there feeling really hopeless. This person was having a terrible time, and the tools I had were so ineffective and not good enough for the job that I needed to do. That was the lightbulb moment. I thought that someone, somewhere is doing this differently. But actually, someone somewhere wasn’t doing this differently, so that’s when I became that somebody somewhere doing this differently.

Which AHSNs are you/have you been supported by?

We’ve had lots of support from various AHSNs who have all played different roles in our journey. They’ve invited us to events, set up webinars, helped with networking, done evaluations and been both a critical friend and a cheerleader.

South West AHSN were our lead AHSN with the Innovation and Technology Payment (ITP) scheme, supporting us with evaluation.

Wessex AHSN were important in evaluating our first project, which was a real gamechanger. The landscape that we work in is complicated, and there are so many reasons why MHA assessments are delayed. Wessex did an incredible job of evaluating and baselining that project in a thorough and comprehensive way.

Kent Surrey Sussex, Oxford and Wessex AHSNs have recently done a workforce evaluation for us which will be published soon. We’ve had support from Innovation Agency, the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) for the North West Coast; Gemma Burn was really helpful in getting Lancashire up and running with the platform.

We had a lot of support from Sarah Appleby and Logan Ryan at West Midlands AHSN, who collaborated with their systems to help us understand what the problems were that we were trying to solve.

The Health Innovation Network (HIN) also provided great opportunities for us to speak to and connect with the right people.

What’s been your toughest obstacle to date?

I think probably the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Before COVID-19 we were still a young company, and our training was done in person with biscuits and tea. We were getting to know people as part of our engagement strategy and meeting them in person to understand their problems. Then suddenly we couldn’t do that. We were nervous about working remotely and trying to support staff morale when their lives had been so disrupted.

I’m incredibly proud of the amount of work and the mountains that we have moved even when facing such a huge challenge.

We really had to have an ear to the ground for what people needed from us. This helped us to reassess and redeploy our energy into the areas that people wanted, rather than continuing with business as usual. In a way, the platform then came into its own, because it could be used to identify who was and wasn’t working. And I think that’s why we’ve done well because we pivoted quickly to the needs of the people we were working with. We implemented sites much quicker than we normally would. It was challenging, but it’s also meant that we’ve scaled faster. And people are far more on board and familiar with technology than they would have been had we not had the pandemic.

What are your hopes for the future?

My hopes for the future are to continue to iterate on what we’ve already done. We’re continuing to ensure that the platform meets the needs of users in what continues to be a changing landscape. It’s about keeping up with everything that is changing all the time.

I’m looking at the national datasets and how they could be useful to different stakeholders as I think there’s a lot more we can do with our data to reflect it back to our sites monthly. We’re also looking at a new product in the Deprivation of Liberty, Mental Capacity Act space, and how it would fit with the liberty protection safeguard work.

Our innovation is an interesting one because it sits between social care and health. So, I guess my hopes for the future are also around understanding and exploring how social care can be more innovative.

What’s the best part of your job?

I have two. The first is working with a team who have the same vision and motivations as me to develop a product which is genuinely helping professionals have more time to do what they do best: support that person who’s having a terrible time. I am incredibly proud of and love working with such brilliant people who have enabled S12 Solutions to do incredible things that at one point I never would have thought were possible.

The other thing that really fuels me and validates what can be a roller-coaster journey is when I hear from our users and doctors that we have genuinely made a difference to people on the ground having MHA assessments. When there hasn’t been a delay, they haven’t had to wait in A&E, they haven’t been stuck in police custody. When someone with a specific cultural need is supported by someone of a similar cultural background or when a specific learning disability doctor has been found for somebody with a learning disability. Knowing that an assessment has been undertaken by the best available team and knowing that the outcome has been the most appropriate for someone is what this is all about.

Three pieces of advice for budding innovators?

  1. Make sure that the problem you’re solving isn’t just a good idea in isolation. You must consider how the entire system operates to know whether your idea actually has legs. Listen to the advice of people around you such as the AHSNs. It has to not only be a good idea system and stakeholder wide, but a problem worth solving.
  2. Be prepared to work hard. Innovating is a tough journey, especially amongst your peers. It’s like being on a roller coaster. The highs are great. The lows are horrible.
  3. You need to really believe in what you are doing because the challenges you’ll get for good, bad or ill-informed reasons are significant, and if you don’t truly believe, it’s a hard road to go down. Having your own belief and having the willingness to have difficult conversations and travel along this kind of path is essential.

What are your experiences as a female innovator?

I’ve noticed it’s a very male dominated world when you get to decision-maker level. I was often the only woman in the room. For me it was less about being a woman as such and more about working out how to be and feel confident in this new environment, which was very far away from the world of social work I was used to. Men seemed to have a very clear dress code for example, but it was less clear to me how I should dress, so I developed my own dress code to help me feel comfortable in the innovation space.

I don’t feel being a woman has disadvantaged me and I’ve always felt respected and heard by the men I’ve met on this journey, but I am my children’s primary caregiver and balancing being a mum and an innovator has been hard. My current job has given me more flexibility but equally there are things I’ve missed; I had to go on my own self-development journey to find a reasonable balance between my home and professional lives.

Do you have any advice for female innovators?

Don’t be deterred because you’re a woman, the world of innovation has been very welcoming to me.

I would also say be realistic, businesses take a long time to build. I think it’s important to recognise that innovation is a marathon, not a sprint. A sustainable pace is important. For me that’s being realistic about what I can achieve in a week and breaking that down into manageable daily tasks, so I don’t feel overwhelmed. A big part of this for me has been accepting that I can’t be all things to all people. Sometimes being a mum is my priority, sometimes work is my priority. Whatever you have going on in your life, it is helpful to make your peace with that idea, so you don’t feel guilty when you have to alternate your priorities.

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