Surges, shuttle buses and social care: Health Scrutiny Committee, 24 June 2021

June’s Health Scrutiny Committee offered updates on ‘classic numbers’ of recent months (notably COVID-19). But there’s a real chance to look at health / climate connections next month when the committee focuses on mental health.

We’ve got a summary of June’s Health scrutiny meeting covered below, but for the sake of not burying the lede, I want to cast our eyes forward to next month’s meeting where the health scrutiny meeting will be focussed on mental health. There are multiple connections between the climate and environment and mental health, and it’s one of the subjects that CEM suggested should be explored in our open letter of suggestions to the scrutiny committee. If your councillor is on the health scrutiny committee, now would be a great time to reach out and tell them about the connection between mental health and the climate.

One of the most (pleasantly!) notable things about covering scrutiny committee meetings is how surprisingly smooth the technology of the livestreamed in-person scrutiny meetings are. I, the viewer at home, really could see and hear everything including presentation slides. Credit where it’s due, I appreciate the effort made to do this right so that the public has meaningful access to a meeting, rather than a single camera angle and a room mic.

Isolation and vaccinations – greater support and precision

The meeting kicked off with all the big hits – no urgent business, appeals, interests, and minutes from last meeting approved. We then cracked on into another classic health scrutiny item – the COVID-19 update. No David Regan (Director of Public Health) this time: instead the item was presented by Sarah Doran, a consultant in public health, with Dr Manisha Kumar leading the vaccination update and additional information provided by Dr Cordelle Ofori. There were the usual statistics provided, with some fascinating extra tidbits including information on a growing ‘support to isolate’ team that go to a household that needs to isolate, find out what they need to help them isolate including food and medicine and then provide those things. You can find out more about that service if you need it here.

There was also some other useful public health information in this item, including the opening of two pop-up vaccination clinics to help hit the target of 85% of the population of Manchester by the 19th of June. The clinics are at Belle Vue Sports Village (there’s even a free shuttle service to get you there!) and at Moss Side leisure centre. More information here on that. It was emphasised that as many people as possible should have their second vaccine by the 19th of June so if you have a date for your second vaccine but it has been eight weeks since your vaccine you can attend a drop in clinic or book a local appointment and then cancel the appointment that was booked through the national system. Dr Kumar highlighted that there are people who had refused the vaccine in the past who are coming back months later to take up that offer, thanks to ongoing work building trust and working sensitively.

On to the scrutiny in this piece, with some good questions by Cllrs Cooley (Brooklands), Curley (Charlestown) and Newman (Woodhouse Park). Topics included the vaccination offer for people with learning disabilities, Manchester’s consistently high COVID-19 rates and those who have been vaccinated contracting the virus. The question on Manchester’s high COVID-19 rates was handled particularly well, with structural inequality discussed as one of the key drivers and the initiatives like the support to isolate scheme highlighted. There was also some questions and comments from Cllr Hussain (Levenshulme) on the statistic rigour of the data and KPIs (key performance indicators) that were being used, among other things.

I personally worry that if the committee introduced his suggestions, which included shortening the presentations so that there is more time for questions and simultaneously bringing more graphs, the meeting would become less accessible to the public rather than more. This would be even more marked with COVID-19 standing item as this reflects a situation that is constantly changing. Cllr Hussain’s questions felt like scrutiny, which is good, but I’m not sure it felt like good scrutiny, with no mention of input from his residents and his points rooted in an expectation that nothing was being done on several issues. I’ve been on this beat for six months now, and there were a lot of questions that I could answer, which meant that we weren’t getting to the deeper things that would need this rigour of scrutiny. Regardless, his questions were handled thoughtfully and professionally by the staff and by the chair, Cllr Green (Harpurhey), who also throughout the meeting reiterated that any requests for specific information be submitted in good time before the meeting so that the information can be prepared and submitted for scrutiny.

Health inequalities and adult social care – do we need the voices of patients and carers at the committee?

Moving on, the next item was a strategic scene-setting piece on health inequalities and adult social care. The focus on health inequalities feels particularly timely, given the new report which reported ‘jaw-dropping’ falls in life expectancy among certain groups in Greater Manchester. At scrutiny, this item was presented by Dr Cordell Ofori, Bernadette Enright, (Director of Adult Social Services), Sarah Broad (Deputy Director Adult Social Services), and Mark Edwards (Chief Operating Officer, Manchester Local Care Organisation) who talked about developing a programme of ‘practice-led change’ to support people to achieve better outcomes with less dependence on care. This piece was delivered very briefly with a quick flick through a slide deck before moving straight to questions, and the questions were really interesting. The fact that the slide deck had not been used illustrated who had read the paper before, with Cllr Newman in particular asking searching questions on slides that we had flicked past. There was also some interesting conversations here about alternative ways to present to the scrutiny committee, such as including the voices of patients and people who deliver services as well as asking for more case studies to understand issues in more depth.

To draw the meeting to a close, Cllr Green reminded the committee that the next meeting includes a piece on mental health, and asked that the COVID-19 update team bring information on the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and the uptake of vaccination among those with mental health issues. She took requests for aspects to include in the paper, with requests including suicide, self-harm, CAMS (complementary and alternative medicines) and holistic family care for mental illness.

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