Leadership and collaboration to improve healthcare and reduce homelessness
At Gofal we take a holistic approach to mental health, recognising that all aspects of a person’s life can affect and be affected by their mental health and wellbeing. This ethos runs throughout our service delivery and in our policy and public affairs work. We have always supported a cross government approach to improving mental health and work hard to influence policy and legislation across a range of areas including health, social care, housing and criminal justice.
One of the challenges posed by devolution is the interface between devolved and non-devolved policy areas and structures. However, the past two weeks have seen the launch of two documents that embody a collaborative approach across devolved and non-devolved agencies to improving mental health crisis care and preventing homelessness.
On the 10th December the Minister for Health and Social Services Mark Drakeford AM launched the Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat for Wales, which aims to improve the system of care and support for people in a mental health crisis.
Statistics show that during 2014/15 1722 people in Wales were detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act and 541 (30%) were placed in police cells rather than a health based place of safety. This is unacceptable. At the launch of the Concordat ACC Jon Stratford from South Wales Police commented that we would never put someone in a police cell for having a physical health problem and we need to eradicate this practice for people experiencing a mental health problem.
The challenges are complex and cannot be solved by one agency alone. The police are often left feeling that they have no alternative and we know that mental health services are overstretched. Solutions will require innovative and collaborative working, taking into account the demographics and geography of the different regions of Wales.
Over the past year, organisations including the Welsh Government, police, criminal justice, health, social services and the third sector have worked together to develop the Concordat and commit to a set of clear principles for the care of people experiencing a mental health crisis. We all want to see a reduction in the use of Section 136, a reduction of the use of police cells, an increase in the use of health based places of safety and the development of alternative places of safety.
We are currently in discussions with our partners Hafal, South Wales Police and Cardiff and Vale Health Board about the possibility of establishing an alternative, third sector led place of safety for people in crisis to get the support they need. Different areas will require different solutions, but we are hopeful that this is a positive step in the right direction for people with mental health problems in this region.
In another example of multi-agency working the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty Lesley Griffiths AM recently launched the National Pathway for Homelessness Services to Children, Young People and Adults in the Secure Estate. Again, this has been led by the Welsh Government alongside a range of stakeholders from across devolved, non-devolved, statutory and non-statutory services.
The group was established following concerns, raised by ourselves and others such as Shelter Cymru, about changes in the Housing (Wales) Act to reduce the rights of ex-offenders to access accommodation. It is estimated that up to 90% of prisoners have at least one mental health condition and we know that access to housing can have a major impact on people’s mental health, wellbeing and recovery. While we remain concerned about this change, we knew that contributing to the development of the pathway could make a difference.
The pathway includes a series of trigger points, from reception to pre-release, where prisoners’ housing needs can be identified and addressed. This could include support to retain a property or help to find accommodation before release. The hope is that this will ensure that more prison leavers have somewhere to live and avoid homelessness. This is better for their health and wellbeing and should also make a positive contribution to reducing re-offending.
These are both great examples of collaboration across devolved and non-devolved, statutory and non-statutory organisations with the aim of improving people’s healthcare and housing status. Having been involved in the development of both the crisis concordat and housing pathway, we have seen a genuine, shared commitment from multiple agencies including health, local government and criminal justice to improving people’s lives. However, the hard work starts now with implementation - and we all need to continue to show strong leadership to deliver improvements for people with mental health problems who are facing crisis or homelessness.
This article was published in the Western Mail on Monday 21st December 2015.