Cllr Dickson with one of the Lambeth #StayAtHome park signs
Cllr Dickson with one of the Lambeth #StayAtHome park signs

Cllr Jim Dickson is the Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care (job-share), and a councillor in Herne Hill. 

Across health provision, public services and the economy Covid-19 has taken the cards and thrown them in the air and we are still working out where they will land. But as lockdown begins to lift – with schools going back and businesses beginning to re-open – it’s vital the NHS and councils begin a big conversation with all our communities to think through how our needs have been changed by the pandemic and what now is the task we face to respond to the unique place we find ourselves.

Rightly there is huge concern that test, track and trace arrangements are neither well enough co-ordinated, sufficiently resourced or responsive enough to be effective in dealing with local outbreaks in a dense and networked city like London. But whilst doing our utmost to mobilise public health, NHS England and the local health and care system to prevent a second wave Lambeth council is rightly working closely with partners in the borough and across South East London to address fundamental questions about the future health and wellbeing of Lambeth’s communities.

The overwhelming priority must be to tackle the ugly wedge that gross inequalities of income, opportunity and outcome continue to drive through our community. Off the back of Public Health England’s review of the data published this week, nothing less than a full public inquiry is needed to understand the gross disparity in the incidence of Covid-19 for many BAME residents – including Lambeth’s African Caribbean heritage communities – compared with the UK population as a whole. Pre-existing poor physical and mental health alongside greater representation in low paid work may all have played a part. We know poverty, poor housing and homelessness all kill. We are resolved that our future strategy must remain firmly fixed on the need to address low pay, build new homes and create more and better jobs.

It is critical too that the NHS is supported through our Lambeth Together partnership to plan its recovery not just to ensure that all those needing urgent and long overdue treatment for cancer, heart disease and other serious conditions get the best care possible. But also to prevent our A&E facilities – at Kings and Guy’s and St Thomas’ -which have been seeing activity rates at 50% less than normal from becoming swamped as the key drivers of emergency attendance including alcohol consumption, street violence and substance misuse begin to tick upwards again.

Lambeth’s mental health services which have been transformed for the better over the past decade will need to adapt still further as the trauma Covid-19 has wrought on the community reveals itself. Isolation will have touched many, financial hardship will affect more over the coming months alongside the related problems of relationship breakdown and addiction. A step change in prevention to increase individual mental health resilience and the adapt our services will be needed across our Living Well Alliance. A taskforce in which we will partner with South London and Maudsley will lead a conversation with residents on what the  community needs.

The next stage of Covid will be what health educators call a ‘teachable moment’ – a chance for a message of change to be absorbed and acted upon. We need to work with residents to promote healthy diet, smoking cessation and greater exercise. Just as Lambeth’s new transport strategy is promoting walking and encouraging residents to get on their bikes the advice to us all to ‘Quit smoking start cycling’ looks like its time has come.

Well over 1,400 Lambeth residents are now on the council’s volunteer scheme – delivering shopping services and befriending to vulnerable people – and thousands more across Lambeth have been supporting their neighbours via mutual aid groups. The power of our communities has only thus far been glimpsed. It’s time to unleash the energy and commitment of all our residents – to tackle loneliness and isolation to improve the health of our borough. And above all to ensure that we don’t simply recover from Covid-19 but emerge with a Lambeth as that is a better, fairer community.

Cllr Jim Dickson

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