Three mental health Trusts, the wider NHS and councils promised action to limit the pandemic’s long-term impact on the wellbeing of south Londoners at a virtual community summit last night.
Around 500 community leaders and members of the public joined the online event to hear public sector leaders make a series of specific pledges at the climax of South London Listens, a listening campaign that started last year. More than 5,700 people told community leaders about the pandemic-related pressures on them and those they care about in 1-1 and group meetings.
The initiative involved charity Citizens UK and other community groups working with the three NHS mental health trusts and 12 boroughs to help prevent a mental health crisis and ensure local people and communities recover from the pandemic together. A survey commissioned for South London Listens revealed that 78% of people have been feeling isolated since the start of the pandemic and 76% have experienced loneliness. Some 81% of people have felt powerless.
As well as loneliness and social isolation, other key themes which emerged included:
- Children, young people and parental mental health
- Work, wages and training
- Access to services
Sir Norman Lamb, Chair of South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, said:
“South London Listens has been a crucial and inspiring programme. It’s clear that we have started to recover together but last night we agreed a roadmap that will ensure we continue the journey over the next two years. The community organisations and leaders did a fantastic job in capturing the pressures that the pandemic has piled on the people we serve in south London and suggesting how we can address those pressures.
“Our responses to those ideas are the beginning, not the end, of making positive change together. We will continue to build trust with our communities which is why we have agreed to capture these commitments in an action plan and to meet regularly with community leaders to monitor progress together.”
The commitments that the mental health trusts signed up to last night include:
- Working with community groups and local authorities to train hundreds of local people as Mental Health Champions who can support others and signpost them to professional help
- Work with community organisations to become Mental Health Hubs where people can talk and get up to date information on mental health support.
- Work with councils and community groups to develop a social isolation, loneliness and digital inclusion strategy
- Supporting and resourcing parent groups to offer peer-to-peer and other mental health support
- Developing a ‘virtual waiting room’ where children and young waiting for mental health treatment are kept better informed and given bespoke digital tools
- Training and equipping staff to understand and overcome barriers that members of black and ethnic minority communities face in accessing mental health services
- Champion the Living Wage – which SLaM already pays – within the health sector more widely, including encouraging GP surgeries, Clinical Commissioning Groups and hospitals to become Living Wage employers
SLaM chief executive David Bradley said:
“This was an inspiring event which has shown how much south Londoners and the organisations that serve them have already done to combat the worst effects of the pandemic. I am proud to confirm that South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust wholeheartedly agrees to the proposals put forward by our community – including ensuring that young people referred for mental health support and their parents receive help and information while they are waiting for that treatment. I am proud that our organisation is an accredited Living Wage employer – another key ask of the community – and we will continue to encourage employers to join us in that.”
Local authorities also made a series of commitments around the themes identified during the listening phase of the initiative.
Councillor Lucy Caldicott, Lambeth Council’s member for health and social care, said:
“A key focus for Lambeth now and into the future is tackling systemic health inequalities and this will continue, more so than ever, as we emerge from or live with the pandemic. We are proud to sign up to the full range of pledges and play our role, alongside our partners, in supporting our communities' mental health and wellbeing.”
Councillor Evelyn Akoto, Southwark Council’s member for health and wellbeing, said:
“We are fully committed to what our community is asking us to do. We have started work on Safer Surgeries and I am now determined to have all our surgeries sign up. We have a transient population so it’s important we combat the postcode lottery by working together to provide excellent mental health services wherever our residents may find themselves.’
Councillor Chris Best, Lewisham Council’s member for health and adult social care, said:
“The voice of our communities couldn’t have been clearer and access to services will be one of our top priorities. I’m also very proud that Lewisham will be supporting the Mental Health Champions programme and developing and digital and social isolation strategy to help Lewisham residents recover from the pandemic.”
Councillor Janet Campbell Croydon Council’s member for families, health and social care, said:
“The passion of our communities to overcome the terrible impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been inspiring. Now is the time for us to match their passion and pledge our support to all their asks. I’m looking forward to continuing to work alongside them to improve mental health for all.”