Hannah Jewell tuned into another bumper Health Scrutiny Committee meeting in the hopes that climate emergency might make it onto the agenda. She was again somewhat disappointed when there wasn’t even the slightest whiff of something climate-related – we do wonder how yesterday’s R&G committee meeting recommendations will impact what they decide to look at in the following months.
“As we know, any crisis makes poorer people poorer and sick people more sick”
These were the insightful words of Councillor Bev Craig during a scrutiny meeting that was centred on COVID health equity. As I said last month, with a pandemic continuing to rage, healthcare in crisis and both a huge remit and tight budget to contend with, it is no surprise that the Health scrutiny committee doesn’t have the time to dedicate to scrutinising climate.
The climate crisis has already begun acting as all crises do, exacerbating existing social and health inequalities, and urgent action spurred on by thorough scrutiny could stop the climate emergency from landing firmly in the health scrutiny committee’s remit.
Whilst of course we are disappointed to not hear mention of environmental issues, this bumper 2hr 40m meeting felt like scrutiny done well. Useful reports were presented by relevant experts and people working on the ground, thoughtful and probing questions were asked by councillors, and the discussion moved forward meaningfully on vitally important public health issues. Can’t wait to see this at the…er… neighbourhoods and environment scrutiny committee in future.
What is the Health Scrutiny Committee?
Here’s a link to the January post which gave a brief overview.
What was discussed?
The chair, Councillor John Farrell, kicked off the meeting with appeals (none), interests (none) and minutes (approved with a small correction). We then jumped straight to agenda item 7 – the COVID-19 update. This item jumped to the top of the agenda due to the announcement of surge testing areas across Manchester, as the Director of Health David Regan was needed for press work elsewhere later in the day.
David Regan delivered an update on COVID indicators, variants of concern and surge testing protocols, followed by questions. Then Dr Manish Kumar gave an update on progress of the vaccination programme, including reaching harder-to-reach groups and working to overcome vaccine hesitancy. Councillors asked questions about how different specific groups were being reached, including asylum seekers, rough sleepers and specific communities such as those with Bangladeshi and Pakistan heritage.
Around here we saw a gallery view of all the attendees of this meeting. During the last meeting, I felt frustrated that I couldn’t tell who was at the meeting. Of course, if I was there in person I could just look around to know if, for example, my ward councillor was there. It’s a small but useful bit of information for holding your elected officials to account, and I was glad to get that opportunity this time.
This conversation led perfectly into the next agenda piece, the report on COVID health equity in Manchester. Several other councillors joined the meeting to observe this part of the meeting. Presentations were given by Dr Sharmila Kar, Dr Cordelle Ofori, Charles Kwaku-Odoi and Donna Miller on the disproportionate effects of COVID on communities including BAME people and disabled people, and the methods being made to improve this situation.
Finally, the budget was discussed for the fourth time in the Health Scrutiny committee. Councillor Bev Craig highlighted again how years of Westminster cuts had left social care in Manchester underfunded and at risk, and that Manchester City Council had decided to itself hold additional money to support the people of Manchester during and after the pandemic when it will be crucial.
What can you do?
Following yesterday’s R&G committee recommendations you could email the chair of the committee if you’ve got ideas of how they might integrate some elements of the climate emergency into their remit – off the top of my head maybe how the recovery of patients of a respiratory pandemic might be affected by poor quality polluting air and increasing frequency of heatwaves…