Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Demise of Health First

With a heavy heart, I attended a recent meeting of the African Health Forum. It was the final one as part of Health First.

Health First was a resource funded by the Primary Care Trusts (pcts) of three South London boroughs, Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham (LSL). Large numbers of African people live in each of these three boroughs.

Health First provided support and advice to professionals and voluntary and statutory organisations for 15 years, but it has now been decommissioned.

I attended a stakeholders’ meeting several months ago, at which everyone agreed about how valuable Health First had been, and the value of the training provision in particular.

We had opportunities to meet people who played various roles across the three boroughs, whom we might never otherwise have met. This allowed us to share information and skills across a range of organisations and individuals.

In 2007, it was announced that Lewisham had decided to withdraw funding from Health First. Several months later, Lambeth and Southwark also decided to pull out.

This is reminiscent of when the Emergency Clinic at the Maudsley, a local mental hospital, closed a couple of years ago. Again, one borough – Lambeth in this case – withdrew its funding and Southwark, the remaining borough was not able to continue to fund the emergency clinic. This means that in an emergency, mental patients such as myself now have to go to the main hospital, Kings College Hospital, for help and support. We hope there will be a member of staff on hand who can provide specialist care and we have been told that there will always be someone available to do this. But Kings do not provide telephone support, which I have personally found extremely valuable at times when I was in a crisis.

Health First was seen as a flagship resource, and other local health authorities and pcts across the country looked to it as an example of good practice. The African Health Forum was an important part of the work of Health First. We are a group of people working in the voluntary and statutory sectors, specifically around HIV and sexual health issues, including health promotion, education, prevention and advocacy within the three boroughs. We have now widened our brief to include other health issues that affect local African communities.

I have been a member of the African Health Forum for over two years, and I have very much appreciated the opportunity to network and learn from others working in the area of health promotion.

The mood at the African Health Forum meeting was one of mourning. One person said it was like living in a house and someone tearing off the roof.

One thing that was said at the meeting was that there were allegations of mismanagement. This came as a shock to me. I had not heard anything about such allegations prior to that meeting and it seemed to be coming out of the blue. Nobody at that meeting was aware of any issues regarding mismanagement within Health First.

There are still funds committed to continuing the work of the African Health Forum for at least one further year. However, we don’t know what this work will be or what we will be able to achieve. We don’t know if there will be dedicated workers to support our aims. It is possible that we will continue in a different form – only time will tell.

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