July’s Health Scrutiny Committee offered updates on COVID-19, health inequalities and on mental health services, but unfortunately hasn’t made the link between these services and the impacts of the climate crisis.
This month’s Health Scrutiny Committee meeting, the second of the new scrutiny cycle, was focussed on mental health, with reports on how Greater Manchester Mental Health services are coping with the recovery from COVID-19 and the trauma-informed practice programme. Last month I wrote about how I hoped that there would be a consideration of the current and future impact of climate breakdown on our mental health, especially for young people.
Spoiler alert: that did not happen. To be fair to the committee, I can understand this. Our mental health services have been systematically underfunded by Westminster for years. The target for MCC is limited by that lack of funding to try to make ends meet, to work reactively rather than creatively and to continually deliver more for less. They don’t have time to look up and consider the storm on the horizon when they’re already in a burning building.
Unfortunately, that storm is growing, and someone has to look at it. This month has been a particularly rough one for climate news, with Canada recording a 49.6C temperature high, temperatures in Pakistan crossing the survivable temperature threshold and flooding in Germany killing at least 160 people to name just a few. I’ve talked to friends and colleagues about it and I know I’m not the only one struggling more than usual this month under that cloud of stress, anger and anxiety about the climate crisis.
It’s often hard to bring political attention to climate mitigation’s less glam sibling, adaptation, but it’s less deniable than ever that we need to be looking at adaption fast. We need a deep consideration of what adaption means for our health and social care services. We are at the same latitude as the areas of Canada that experienced those highs. What happens to the vulnerable in our city if that temperature surge happens to us and what can we do to protect them? What happens to the rest of us? And can our mental health services support us as we confront the fact that from now on every year will be worse?
What the meeting covered
As usual, the meeting kicked off with the COVID and vaccination update, delivered by the Director of Public Health, David Regan. The most notable development is that Manchester has been benefitting from being designated an ‘enhanced support area’, but that support is ending this week. This isn’t the worst news – although Manchester cases have continued to climb it has dropped down the rankings and other areas are in greater need. Manchester’s had a good deal from this support, receiving 6 weeks of support where other areas will get 4. It does mean that Manchester will have to deliver all of its vaccination services without military support, and that it will be particularly stretched when we get to booster vaccinations in September. Councillors asked questions on vaccine hesitancy, nightclubs opening and social media spreading falsehoods. Several of them commented on the recently published Marmot Review ‘build back fairer in Greater Manchester’ and the failings of National government.
The next piece was a report by Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust on its recovery from COVID-19. Importantly, this piece included the perspective of a service user, Peter, who talked about his experience of the system. This was appreciated across the board by councillors, with the chair Cllr Green (Harpurhey) promising to ensure that the voices of patients, service users and residents are included in every meeting going forward. This was an idea that has come up in the last 2 meetings so it’s great to see it implemented. As Cllr Hussein pointed out, there’s also a need to invite negative experiences as well. Consider this a reminder to talk to your councillors about good or bad experiences with our health and social care services!
One of the themes of the discussion was community provisions to mental health, in particular crisis cafes. There are two crisis cafes in Greater Manchester, both within Manchester. These crisis cafes exist to provide out-of-hours mental health support where before people could only get help at A&E. Councillors highlighted the need for public awareness of these crisis cafes so that people know that support exists. There is one crisis café at No 93 Harpurhey Wellbeing Centre, and another delivered in partnership with Turning Point (which doesn’t seem to have an online presence outside of the report for the council?).
The final piece was on adverse childhood experiences and trauma-informed practice. This is a training programme to ensure that people in all sorts of settings implement their services in ways that are trauma-informed. Several councillors have had this training and they are hoping to ensure that all councillors receive the training going forward. Councillor Green highlighted the intersectionalities of health inequalities and trauma. This training provides an effective way of supporting communities, but it isn’t a silver bullet to deal with health inequalities.
We’ve got a break in August, with the committee returning on the 8th of September to discuss dentistry. I’m not sure even I can find the link between that and climate change.