York Press column – York’s path to normality and mental health investment
February 24, 2021
While the toll of coronavirus remains very great, with the successful completion of the first phase of the vaccination programme, and the Monday 22nd unveiling of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, we now seem to be at the turn of the tide.
A new study from Imperial College London shows infections have fallen by two-thirds in England since lockdown, suggesting this blunt instrument has had an important impact and given necessary breathing space for the vaccine rollout. In York, the infection rate has finally dropped below 100 per 100,000, having been over 650 just a few weeks ago.
Meeting the 15th February target to offer a vaccine to all 15 million in the top 4 most vulnerable groups (care home residents and care home workers, frontline NHS staff, everyone over 70, and the clinically extremely vulnerable) was a hugely reassuring moment, and we can also draw confidence from the rapid pace being set on this locally by York’s health service.
Over 60% of York residents in the 5th vaccine priority group (all over 65s) have been contacted for an appointment, and GP practices have also moved on to notifying priority group 6 (16 to 65 years with at-risk medical condition) in line with vaccine deliveries. We also have the encouraging news of an additional vaccination centre being opened at the old Boots site in Haxby by local community pharmacy chain Citywide Health, and there is now the possibility of expanding this vaccination service to all 7 of Citywide’s centres across York.
On the government roadmap out of lockdown, like other parents one of my biggest priorities is to get children back to school as soon as possible. This is why I used Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this month to press Boris Johnson in the House of Commons on the importance of a hard 8th March commitment. I think that given the success of the vaccination programme, falling infection rates and clear evidence that schools in themselves are safe environments, the disadvantages of ongoing school closure now clearly outweigh the remaining risks.
I have been struck by the large number of constituents who have got in touch to share their concerns about the impact of staying away from school on their children’s development and mental health. As a society we can no longer afford to further endanger the prospects of the next generation, and I warmly welcome that schools will be the first institutions to reopen.
We must also remain attentive to the our community’s wider health needs, which is why am so pleased that work is beginning on an upgraded child and youth NHS mental health centre at Link Business Park in Osbaldwick, replacing the old facility currently based at the Lime Trees site on Shipton Road. This is a £1.2 million investment in our local health infrastructure, with 6 months of building work creating a brand new 2-floor centre, with greater capacity for pushchairs and wheelchairs in therapy rooms. The bigger space will also better allow for group work and staff training sessions.
As someone who has engaged regularly with our city’s child mental health services regarding treatment for constituents, especially on waiting times for autism assessments, I am very glad these facilities are being overhauled, and it is especially encouraging to hear that the bigger space will facilitate covid social distancing requirements, allowing for more staff to be safely on-site. This is the latest in a series of very welcome investments in York’s NHS by the government, including £3.49 million for upgrades across York Hospital Trust in December.
I could not finish without mentioning the passing away of Peter Lawrence, father of still-missing Claudia. Such was his determination and selflessness, he threw himself not only into an unending hunt for her, but also into tireless work to improve legal provisions assisting the families of missing loved ones. This produced ‘Claudia’s law’, the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2019 which I was privileged to assist him in securing, and earlier changes to the Presumption of Death Act. He leaves an enormous legacy, and our city and country are diminished by his loss. It was an honour to have known him.