Interview with Dr. Roger Banks

Periodically, we introduce to you one of the people leading the work of our member organisations. Today we are heading to Wales (UK) to speak with Dr. Roger Banks, Psychiatrist and National clinical director for learning disabilities and autism at NHS England, and vice President of our Network.

ARFIE: How would you describe yourself?

Roger: At heart a European – by birth an Englishman and living in Wales.  Motivated by a desire for equity and justice for the most disadvantaged – oh, and by good food! (usually European!). By profession I am a doctor and psychiatrist specialising in the mental health and well-being of people with a learning (intellectual) disability and autistic people. I have had particular clinical interests in the fields of challenging behaviour and of psychological therapies.

ARFIE: You are National Clinical Director for Learning (Intellectual) Disability and Autism at NHS (National Health Service) England and NHS Improvement, can you describe your work there?   

Roger: The role of the National Clinical Director is to provide specialist clinical advice and leadership for NHS England and NHS Improvement in these respects:

  • to drive transformation of services for patients through corporate programmes and Long-Term Plan work-streams;
  • support the commissioning of services; and
  • to support development of policy and parliamentary accountability.

The NHS has a crucial role to play in helping people with a learning disability, autism or both lead longer, happier and healthier lives. Our NHS Long Term Plan aims to improve people’s health by making sure they receive timely and appropriate health checks, while improving the level of awareness and understanding across the NHS of how best to support them as patients.  We intend that more people with complex needs will be supported to live fulfilling lives at home rather than in hospital, while thousands will be offered a personal health budget, giving them choice over the type of support they need to live the life they choose.

ARFIE: Why did you join ARFIE and how would you describe it to a stranger?

Roger: I had the privilege of working with members of ARFIE on the TRIADD project in 2007, having been invited in as a result of my interest in psychological therapies for people with intellectual disability. I have continued to support other ARFIE projects over the years as an evaluator / specialist adviser, more recently the ENABLE and IN-CUBA projects.  I continue to respect and value greatly the combined experience and expertise that ARFIE members bring together and the shared aims for people with intellectual disability regardless of cultural and ethnic origins.

To a stranger, I would describe ARFIE as a collective of professional experience, skills and vision underpinned by strong values and commitment to working co-productively and creatively with individuals, families and supporters in pursuing projects to further knowledge and practice in the support and enablement of people with intellectual disability. ARFIE is also a group with strong bonds of friendship and respect amongst each other that enables our ideas and creations to be realised even in challenging times.

ARFIE: What about UK? How is disability perceived in your Country?   

Roger: The social model of disability predominates but the UK is also unusual in having specialist health and social services, and specialist training for some professions in the field of intellectual disability.  While these services and professionals may hold respectful and inclusive views of people with disabilities, in common with the rest of the world, there are still unhelpful and discriminatory attitudes among many people. Legislation such as the Equality Act and the Mental Capacity Act aim to protect the interests of those with disability and there is an increasing visibility of individuals and groups in society and media.

ARFIE: Who are your key partners?

Roger: NHS England works closely with Social Services and Local Government and with government departments of Health and Social Care, Education, Employment. We have a large network of stakeholders ranging from individual and groups of self-advocates, small and large charities; it would be unfair to select any in particular since size and numbers do not equate with strength of voice and effectiveness.

ARFIE: What are the main challenges for UK today?

Roger: Our key challenges are:  reducing health inequalities and the unacceptably high rates of morbidity and premature mortality in both people with intellectual disability and in autistic people. We have a national programme to review the circumstances surrounding the deaths of people with a learning disability and national and local quality improvement actions that follow. In the coming year the deaths of autistic people will be added to this programme. We also have a funded programme of annual health checks in primary care to enable proactive identification and intervention for health problems. Our other major work is to reduce reliance on admissions to hospitals for mental health and behavioural problems, to reduce the length of stay and improve the quality of care and treatment of those who are admitted. These are significant challenges as they require system, professional and cultural changes at all levels. 

Coming out of the COVID pandemic brings its own challenges of restoration of ‘business as usual’, the availability of staff and the impacts on personal and family life that people have endured.

ARFIE: To conclude tell us something about you, do you have any hobbies? do you like reading? 

Roger: As anyone who has met me will be aware – good food and cooking tend to dominate my life.  In addition, however, I have a keen interest in music, having been a singer / chorister at various points in my life. My wife, Helen, and I share an interest in the arts and we are small-scale collectors of paintings and sculpture. We are both also developing skills in willow basket weaving though Helen is way ahead of me so far.

As for reading, I find it hard to read fiction – I like books about European history and aspects of our immediate natural world – I am currently reading a book about the English hedgerow!  Most of all I like to read the WhatsApp and Instagram communications from our two sons and their wives wherever they happen to be in the world at any one time!

ARFIE: How do you enjoy your free time?

Preparing and cooking food, including home smoking and fermenting. And when I am not attempting to complete a fiendish cryptic crossword, or walking in the hills and valleys of our local countryside in North Wales, I am trying to keep building on my 606 day streak of learning languages, French and Swedish, on Duolingo.  Hopefully, we can begin to travel again!


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