A producer's view

Alice Mayhall

Producer, The Garden Productions

For a producer like me, getting the chance to work on a documentary series in an organisation like SLaM is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I jumped at the chance. When I joined the team, Amy Flanagan, the executive producer had already been talking to the Trust for months about how to make the series and so it became my job to meet and research with as many staff and patients across the Trust as I could.

The first time I walked into Lambeth triage ward I was apprehensive - about who I would meet, what I would see and what the staff and patients would think about a television producer asking them questions. But I was quickly given a very warm welcome and put at ease by patients and staff, some patients like ‘A’ were even glad I was there so that people could "really see what it’s like here". People wanted to talk, they wanted to share their stories and their experiences of mental illness, and whilst many didn't want to be filmed doing this, some were happy to open up their worlds on camera. I'd walk out of the ward every day feeling exhilarated, shocked and touched.

Before filming I spent weeks shadowing staff and meeting patients talking about making a documentary on the ward - was it a good idea, would people want to be filmed at such a critical time of their lives and who were the staff and patients that came through the secure doors every day? We had many meetings to discuss confidentiality, access and how Paddy the director and I would film with a small camera and sound kit.

One of the complex questions for filming on the ward was that of patients’ capacity to consent. We'd agreed a rigorous consent protocol with the Trust which included getting an initial steer from a lead consultant in charge of the patients’ care before even approaching an individual. At times we just got a patients’ consent to film them, we had to return to them at a later date to get consent to broadcast the material. We filmed with one lady, M, for a number of days while she was on the ward and then when she was discharged home we met her for lunch and she decided not to be involved further. Central to the filming was a respect for people's right to privacy and we respected M's decision.

I was struck by the resilient staff I met who were determined to provide the best possible care in difficult circumstances. We filmed the staff working with patients but were mindful of not wanting to interrupt the running of the ward, so we spent a lot of time hanging around, chatting to patients. At times, we wouldn't film at all, just sit and talk to people. Because the ward has up to 90 admissions a month, we met a great number of patients from all walks of life, every background and every age group and were compelled by their rich histories and lives.

Triage is such an interesting ward to spend time in, at times calm and relaxed, at times loud and unpredictable. The fast changing pace of the ward meant that Paddy and I had to be prepared to start and stop filming at any moment. We'd agreed with the staff that we could film even challenging situations but if someone asked us to stop, we would stop straight away. Filming in this way is based on trust and the confidence of a strong team led by staff like Darren Plant. It meant that we were able to capture some of the more difficult but realistic times on the ward.

I've had an extraordinary time working on this documentary. I always feel very privileged in my work that people want to share their stories with me and never more so than with the patients and staff on the Lambeth triage ward.


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