A summer of academic, professional and personal growth: my PPR work based placement experience.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to receive a grant from the University of Edinburgh (UoE) to undergo a work-based placement project (WBP) with the Participation and the Practice of Rights part of my dissertation requirements.

There were many memorable moments for me during my WBP with PPR. Topping the list would be meeting Professor Paul Hunt, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health, during PPR’s ‘Housing and Accommodation Rights: Lessons from the Grassroots’ conference. Prof. Hunt figured prominently in the readings for my class in Health and human rights: principles, practice and dilemmas (SCPL11015) at the university. Moreover, my brief discussion with him allowed me to concretise my thoughts on research as political practice.

I found it extremely fulfilling to work with PPR’s team of researchers and to  contribute substantively to the report Beyond a Spin of the Wheel: Ensuring timely and appropriate mental healthcare from GPs, the findings of which were featured in BBC Northern Ireland news article entitled “Mental health: Huge gap between needs and provision.”  Under the supervision of PPR, I researched key issues in mental health service provision at the primary care level and looked into case studies and pilot projects in the UK and beyond that have improved health service accessibility.

Prior to the launch of the report, I also accompanied PPR development worker Sara Boyce on various activities under the Mental Health Rights Campaign network. It was a wonderful opportunity to explore Northern Ireland and, more importantly, I was able to meet various mental health service users, carers, and representatives from SAFE Together Group Shankill, BJ – Northside Family Support, PIPS Antrim Road, Men’s Shed Conway Mill, SAM88 Group, CAUSE Carers Group, Rosemount Youth Forum, and STEPS. These meetings took us all over North and West Belfast, as well as the rural districts of Cookstown, Draperstown, and Londonderry. These meetings gave me a valuable insight about the mental health policies, administrative data, and the health and social care briefing papers from the Northern Ireland Assembly I was analysing for my dissertation.

Importantly the experience allowed me to reflect on and apply the theoretical ideas I learned from my MSc Global Health & Public Policy programme within a real-world, practical context. Drawing on similar inquiries such as the series of GPs at the Deep End reports in Scotland, which highlight policy gaps in addressing the operation of the inverse care law in the poorer areas of Glasgow, my research investigates how the problem of inequalities in primary mental health service access in Belfast is represented and problematised in mental health policies. From a public health and sustainable development perspective, problem questioning, as a prerequisite to problem solving, should considered as an important intervention in its own right because it invites critical analysis on how policies pertaining to the ‘wicked problems’ of mental ill-health and health service inequalities may reinforce the very social ills governments aim to address or even create new and unanticipated problems. The statement of WHO Assistant Director-General Marie-Paule Kieny that “[t]he world's most disadvantaged people are missing out on even the most basic services" is particularly relevant to the Northern Ireland context.

Overall, it was an amazing and unforgettable summer of academic, professional, and personal growth for me. I am particularly indebted to the wonderful people behind the Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR) for their mentorship, supervision, and trust during my WBP. It has been a great privilege to meet so many inspiring activists, dreamers, and reformers in Belfast and beyond in a span of two months. 

Images above: With Prof Paul Hunt at PPR conference and at Men's Shed Conway Mill, Belfast - 'Maligayang pagdating' means 'welcome' in Filipino- which is exactly what I felt during my placement!

Below: Patty's WBP Showcase at the Chrystal Macmillan Building Foyer, University of Edinburgh featuring her research project and photos.