Since March this year I have become a local ‘champion’ for mental health. As a local champion I have raised issues brought to me by service users, their carers and the local voluntary sector agencies. I have raised issues with Leicester City Council, the clinical commissioning group (CCG) and the main statutory provider of services in the area.
At a mental health summit I hosted earlier this year, I publicly made the commitment to be a local champion. This summit was attended by key stakeholders in the city – from senior figures in the police and health services, to city council officers and voluntary sector agencies. I got key city agencies to also make commitments or pledges to improve the services delivered, and these pledges will be reported on at a second summit to be held next year.
But what I have always done, even before becoming a local champion, is to listen to service users and their carers. I’ve visited services to meet staff and service users, and I’ve hosted two listening events to hear directly what people think of them. Hearing from people who use the services, knowing what they think and learning about how they can be improved locally – all of these are key when looking at mental health services.
As well as these organised listening events, later this month my office will start holding monthly advice sessions at a local voluntary sector provider, Network for Change. My aim is to make it easier for people with mental health issues to access their MP. By holding sessions at Network, hopefully this will happen – people will not have to come into the city centre, and instead of having a formal meeting in an unfamiliar office, they can speak freely in surroundings that they’re already comfortable in.
Raising awareness of mental health issues will be an on-going part of my job as an MP, but it is a vital part – especially at a time when the health service and local providers of services are under increasing financial pressure.
Jon Ashworth is MP for Leicester South