'We need to level up now', says health minister Sajid Javid on Blackpool visit

New  Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid has called for an urgent levelling up to improve health and life expectancy in Blackpool.

Thursday, 16th September 2021, 5:39 pm

Speaking at the Grange Community Centre, he set out the unique challenges created by the pandemic and described his determination to tackle the ‘social backlog’ that has built up – including by cutting waiting times, reforming social care and improving mental health provision.

Blackpool, which has eight of the 10 most deprived neighbourhoods in England, and where 40 per cent of the neighbourhoods are classed as ‘highly deprived’, the Health and Social Care Secretary laid out his mission to level up the public’s health.

Mr Javid said the global pandemic has also shone a light on the health disparities that exist across the country - evident in varying mortality rates, hospital admissions and vaccine uptake - and reiterated the government’s commitment to addressing these inequalities in order to level up public health.

Sajid Javid in Blackpool

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Medics speak of new Mental Health Urgent Assessment Centre at Blackpool Victoria...

That was the message from Mr Javid as he visited Blackpool just as the resort shapes up to welcome crowds of visitors in the peak illuminations season.

Mr Javid was in town to take a look at the new mental health urgent assessment centre at Blackpol Victoria Hospital, which opened in May and aims to provide a safe and calm assessment space for patients who appear at A&E with urgent mental health needs, and have no coronavirus symptoms or physical injuries.

He met staff and patients there are then went on to a round table discussion with representatives of mental health charities at the Grange community centre in Grange Park, followed by a speak on mental health and other key health issues.

Sajid Javid making his speech at the Grange Community Centre

Mr Javid was impressed by the new unit - and told The Gazette he hopes it can be emulated in other parts of the country.

“We all know there have been an increase in health problems during the pandemic, including mental heath, and I wanted to take a look at the new urgent assessment centre, which is dealing with more cases more quickly,” said the Secretary of State.

“I met the doctors and nurses there and even patients, and they couldn’t speak highly enough of it.

“We want to replicate that unit across the country. I think people can learn from what is being achieved in Blackpool – we want to push that idea and use it elsewhere in England.”

During his speech, Mr Javed outlined his vision for tackling the hidden costs of Covid-19 - and said Blackpool has actually bucked the trend in terms of interventions in other key resulting issues, including mental health.

“Whether it’s Blackpool or Bristol, Rochdale or Ruislip, the real message of the pandemic is that health interventions, they can work,” he said.

“We really can make a difference when we work together and we’re all focused on our goals.

“Realising our mission to level up in health means tackling our social backlog—in mental health and public health—with the same spirit and sense of urgency with which we all tackled the pandemic.”

His visit came just days after the Government unveiled its autumn and winter plan to try and ensure the current freedoms can continue

Features of the Government’s ‘Plan A’ include building our defences through pharmaceutical interventions, identifying and isolating positive cases to limit transmission, and advising people on how to protect themselves and others, with vaccines continuing to be our first line of defence.

All those who were vaccinated during the first phase of the vaccine programme will be offered booster jabs and first jabs for younger age groups have already been rolled out.

Only if that plan is unsuccessful, will ‘Plan B’ be brought into operation, including the return of mandatory face coverings in certain settings.

If that also fails to ward off the spread of the virus, ‘Plan C’ would be lockdown, which Mr Javid termed ‘the worst case scenario’.

Mr Javid told the Gazette it is vital that everyone does their bit to help sure they and others are protected from the virus, especially in crowded settings such as those likely in Blackpool during the Illuminations season.

“This area and the North West has done wonderfully in terms of vaccination levels,” said. “As with the est of the country, of course, we would like to see more take-up but it has been a really good efforts from everyone involved and our thanks to them.

“When it comes to big gatherings, it is important to stress the pandemic is not over yet. We are in a much better place than we were but the message is please, if you are eligible, get vaccinated, if you are feeling unwell and dealing with vulnerable people, get tested.

“Those are our key defences - and if we act cautiously and behave sensibly, we can all still go about our lives and enjoy ourselves.”

The Secretary of State set out what he termed the ‘unique challenges’ created by the pandemic and described his determination to tackle the ‘social backlog’ that has built up – including by cutting waiting times, reforming social care and improving mental health provision.

Mr Javid said the global pandemic has also shone a light on the health disparities that exist across the country - evident in varying mortality rates, hospital admissions and vaccine uptake - and reiterated the government’s commitment to addressing these inequalities in order to level up public health.

“I couldn’t simply be the ‘Minister for Covid’, because we had to turn and face all the other challenges too,” he said..

“Challenges like the backlog. More than five and a half million people are on the waiting list for elective treatment – that is a record high. But the backlog in elective care is only one part of the story. Covid-19 has had many hidden costs.

“Passing the peak of the pandemic has been like a receding tide, revealing the underlying health of our nation. It’s revealed some fractures within. And in many cases, the pandemic has deepened those fractures.

“It’s this Government’s mission to unite and level up across the whole of the UK, to build back better and to build back fairer.”

Mr Javid also set out the steps the Government is taking to tackle mental health as an essential and indispensable part of levelling up health and ensuring we have a safer, carer and more supportive society. He said:

“We’re ending historic injustices by updating our Mental Health Act, ensuring people in acute mental distress are still met with the compassion and choice they deserve. At the same time, we’re looking at those resources that can help everyone.

“We know that one in four people living in deprived areas has a common mental health disorder, so we need to look at everything that’s holding people back from living their very best lives.

“Our long-term plan commits an extra £2.3 billion a year to transforming mental health services by 2023 – expanding them to reach families, communities, workplaces, and schools. And we’re launching brilliant new resources, like Every Mind Matters.”

The Secretary of State highlighted the need for a new approach to public health as although people are living longer than ever before they spend more of these years in poor health.

He spoke about plans for the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, which formally launches on October 1 to support cross-government efforts to reduce health inequalities and level up public health, ensuring everyone has the chance to live happy and healthy lives.

Mr Javid said: “The genius of universal healthcare is just that: it’s universal. So as Secretary of State, I’m determined everyone gets access to the health and care they need – especially the kind of preventive action that will stop them from becoming ill in the first place. That’s another way we ensure, not just a healthier society, but a fairer society too.”

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