Opinion: We want service users to be involved

Cllr Pat Callaghan wants everyone to be included in planning Camden's healthcare.

Cllr Pat Callaghan wants everyone to be included in planning Camden's healthcare. - Credit: Archant

A big conversation on Camden’s health and wellbeing is under way, the latest key issue to be examined by a Camden Citizens’ Assembly.

As we face up to the coronavirus, I can't think of a more relevant discussion to have.

I must begin with the coronavirus. We must keep following the official advice. Washing your hands regularly with soap and hot water will limit the virus' spread, so please do this, for at least 20 seconds at a time.

If you suspect you have been in contact with someone with coronavirus or have returned from a high-risk affected area, and you are feeling unwell with a cough, have difficulty breathing or a fever, stay at home and use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service or call NHS 111.

We are working closely with Public Heath England and will share guidance

This emergency reminds us how important our health is. A few weeks ago a national report - the Marmot Review - laid bare the scale of health inequality and the flatlining of life expectancy across the country. We know in Camden too, there are sharp differences in the state of residents' health depending on where in the borough they are from.

We will not accept this. Our guiding principle is that no one gets left behind and we will do all we can to support those in poverty or in other circumstances that negatively impact their health.

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We recently set council tax rates, against a backdrop of national austerity that has seen our funding from government cut in half since 2010. By raising council tax by 3.99 per cent, we can now spend £167.6m on supporting vulnerable adults and older people. In fact, half the money raised from this year's council tax rise will be dedicated to protecting care services for Camden's elderly residents or those living with dementia, mental health issues or disabilities.

We are building new extra care flats at Charlie Ratchford Court in Chalk Farm for residents with a range of needs, creating an intergenerational community on site that will reduce loneliness and isolation. Flats will be let to young people at a reduced rent, who will provide support to their neighbours. We will be bringing the service in-house, directly employing the carers. Camden was one of the first councils to sign the UNISON Ethical Care Charter and this demonstrates our commitment to valuing care and those who provide it.

We have also refurbished the home of our Breakaway service, which offers adults with disabilities the chance to spend time away from home to socialise and develop independence, while giving their carers a break.

But investment alone is not enough. We want residents and service users to be involved in making services accessible and ensure they meet local needs. We know people want holistic health and care services that keep them well and look after them and their families when they need it.

This is where our Citizens' Assembly comes in. Made up of around 50 residents, GPs, hospitals and the council, the assembly will meet several times before coming together in June to set recommendations on the way forward. I'm so excited at the thought of what this grassroots approach could achieve.