MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK
Today is the first day of Mental Health Awareness Week, which could not be more timely. Lockdown has been hard on many people, especially those who are alone, those whose home is not a happy home, and those who have reason to be especially fearful for their health or their loved ones' health. We should each take a moment this week to consider our own mental health and see if we need to take some steps to improve it by reaching out for help, or using self-help resources. Here is a good place to start: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-the-public-on-mental-health-and-wellbeing/guidance-for-the-public-on-the-mental-health-and-wellbeing-aspects-of-coronavirus-covid-19
This year's theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness. So in addition to reviewing your own mental health care, the Mental Health Foundation is asking us all to consider what we are doing to help others cope. We have all read and been touched by stories of kindness from around the country; this crisis has brought us together emotionally as it holds us apart physically. Being kind to someone else lifts up both the giver and the receiver, and we all need that lift right now.
On a policy level, my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I are calling on the Government to ramp up mental health support for the NHS and care staff. They have been tackling the virus head on since March, and are working under enormous emotional strain. The package we are proposing includes:
24/7 access to a dedicated helpline
Guarantees that health and care staff will not be penalised for time off
Additional training and mental health first-aiders in every health and care workforce
Steps to standardise the quality and service of mental health care offered
I have been speaking with local schools last week and today. They are working hard to prepare to receive children in June, thoughtfully making the arrangements they feel are are most suitable and realistic for their own circumstances. I salute them for the role they have played in keeping children safe since the lockdown began, and for the efforts they are making to comply with government instructions.
Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson, herself a teacher, is calling for the Government to publish the scientific data on which they have based the decision to reopen schools. This will reassure schools that the decision to reopen schools was a safe and responsible one. I know that our local schools have many serious questions about the science around children and coronavirus, the answers to which would inform their policies as they open their doors to more children.
LONDON TRANSPORT FUNDING
The government has agreed a £1.6 billion funding and financing package for Transport for London. TfL is working hard to return Tube and bus services to normal levels while many of their staff are themselves ill or self-isolating, and with sharply reduced revenues. Given the requirement to maintain two metres distance between passengers wherever possible, the capacity on the Tube will only be around 13-15 per cent of normal even once services are back to full schedules. The bus service will have similar capacity limits.
This means we need everyone to do everything they can to stay off public transportation. Everyone who can work from home should continue to do so. If you need to travel to work or to seek medical care, public transport should be avoided if at all possible. And if you must travel by bus or train, please plan ahead and travel outside of the busiest times, which are 05:45 to 08:15 and 16:00-17:30.
Please wear a face covering and respect the space of fellow passengers to help maintain this distance. Do not travel if you have any symptoms of the virus. If you are using public transport, you may be asked to wait to enter a station.
Caroline Pidgeon, our Lib Dem London Assembly Member, has sent these details about the terms of the Government's financial package offer to TfL:
The package goes up to the end of September. It is £1.6 billion in total, with £1.095 billion in grants and £505 million in a loan from central government.
There will be a temporary suspension of the Freedom Pass and 60+ card concessions, to off peak hours only.
There will be a re-introduction of fares on buses.
There will be a temporary suspension of free travel for under 18-year olds, although special arrangements may be made to ensure children eligible under national legislation can still travel to school for free.
The Congestion Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone will be reinstated from today.
The Congestion Charge reimbursement scheme for NHS staff will be extended and will also be open to care home workers.
The Congestion Charge will, from the 22 June, increase to £15. The hours of operation will be extended to 7am to 10pm, seven days a week.
I am concerned that some of these changes may mean that the extra cost of running a full transport network for fewer people will be disproportionately born by pensioners, children and the disabled. On Friday I spoke to Alan Benson, the Chair of Transport for All, who is concerned about how restrictions on Freedom Pass travel will affect disabled people.
Disabled people may be using their pass to get to to work or medical appointments, which they may be unable to get to using active transport. It has taken years to get disabled access on public transport up to the current level, and it would be devastating for people with disabilities to be unable to move around the city. I have written to the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, to ask for clarity on this issue as a matter of urgency.
CYCLING IN RICHMOND PARK
As part of the effort to get as many commuters as possible off of public transport without adding more cars to the road, I am continuing to press Royal Parks for a decision on whether to reopen Richmond Park to commuter cyclists.
SOUTHWEST LONDON CCG MERGER
Some of my constituents have expressed concern that the Clinical Commissioning Groups of Richmond, Kingston, Wandsworth, Sutton, Merton and Croydon went ahead with their merger into one SW London CCG last month, as Covid-19 was hitting its peak. I asked the new larger CCG about this and they replied to say that "We were able to meet the deadline of 1 April as the majority of the work to get to this point had been undertaken prior to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic." I can confirm that I have not observed any loss of responsiveness or gaps in care due to the merger. The merger seems to have been a unanimous joint agreement among the six boroughs and to have gone smoothly.
COMMUNICATING WITH DEAF CHILDREN (AND ADULTS!)
The National Deaf Children's Society has sent us this poster about communicating with children with hearing impairments under current guidelines. Most children (and adults) with a hearing impairment are only partially deaf. They supplement what they hear with lip-reading and facial cues, so talking to someone who is wearing a face mask can be difficult. Hearing aids are designed to work within a two metre radius of the wearer, so the two metre social distancing rule is a further problem. Please have a look at this poster for some tips on how to communicate with a hearing impaired child - they apply equally to hearing impaired adults!
NEW LEAD MEMBER FOR BUSINESS
Cllr Richard Baker will become the new lead Council member for business this week, when Cllr Geoff Acton, the current holder of the post, becomes Mayor of Richmond upon Thames.
Cllr Baker, ward councillor for Teddington and a local resident for over 30 years, has ample experience of businesses to bring to the role. He spent his career working in the corporate banking industry, within the Barclays Banking Group and Handelsbanken. Cllr Baker is passionate about supporting high streets across the borough and ready to help the local business community recover and rebuild.
RICHMOND GOOD NEIGHBOURS ARE RUNNING UP EVEREST Richmond Good Neighbours has been providing support to residents of Richmond for over thirty years. Volunteers shop for clients, take them to hospital or a doctor appointments and will stay with them if they need moral support or a second pair of ears. They drive them to social events, meet them for a cup of tea and a chat or take them to the theatre or cinema.
The charity's finances, however, have been badly hit by lockdown. Members of the Richmond Hill Covid 19 Support Group, who have already done fantastic work in making visors for the NHS and care workers, are helping this valuable service by raising money in a Richmond Hill Running Uphill Challenge. The Challenge is to cumulatively run the equivalent height of Mount Everest. The challenge will involve running up the hill in the Park, from Petersham Gate towards Pembroke Lodge, as many times as you can or wish. Together our combined uphill ascents should equal an Everest ascent. You don’t have to run it fast and can walk it if you prefer. We are asking those taking part to give an entry donation to Richmond Good Neighbours, and to please send the link to your friends and family to request sponsorship donations too.
If you would like to participate, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject “RGN” to let us know and we will give you all the details. If you will not be running yourself, you can support the runners conquering Everest for Richmond Good Neighbours here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/running-uphill-for-richmond-good-neighbours
KINGSTON CARE HOME UPDATE
With so many people worried about the increasing infection rates in care homes, Kingston Council has written to let us know what the situation is in the Borough. In a very informative letter the Chief Executive has said:
"We are in daily contact with our providers to monitor the number of COVID-19 cases in care homes to ensure the wellbeing of residents, and that appropriate resources, support and protection are accessible to our care providers.
Following government guidance, care home residents are tested when there are reported cases of COVID-19 in the same home. When residents become symptomatic their care is tailored to ensure their wellbeing and to prevent the spread of infection. Our Public Health and Adult Social Care services are working closely with the CCG, Community Health services and primary care to reduce the infection in care homes in Kingston.
To enable timely discharge from hospital we have implemented a local real-time vacancy tracker to monitor which providers have vacant beds. We are also monitoring daily the status of providers so we can provide support where they require it. At the present time there are sufficient beds in the community to meet the current demand but we continue to explore options to increase bed capacity should this be needed.
Throughout the pandemic we have been supporting care providers and essential workers to source PPE. Teams within the council have worked with local suppliers and those who have access to stocks of PPE to share with those who require it under mutual aid arrangements. We are actively working with all of our care providers including those in the community to make sure that we are supporting them effectively, discussing what more we can do to help with supply, and the training of the workforce.
We’ve also acted quickly to turn around the additional central government funding made available to local authorities and channel it to Kingston’s providers, to meet the pressures they were experiencing caused by COVID-19. An additional 30% one-off payment was provided in April to help support providers and stabilise the market.
We will continue to work together with those involved in helping to keep some of our most vulnerable safe. This must remain our top priority."
To kick off Mental Health Awareness Week, Kingston Council is asking residents and communities to share their stories. If you hear of a story, an idea or a rainbow to share that could inspire others, or if you have someone you would like to thank, please join in with #KinderKingston and share it with us.
Thank you to everyone who has inspired others with kindness, courage, humour, patience or creativity. Most acts of kindness are invisible to everyone except the giver and the receiver, but they are just as important as the public acts and we are just as grateful for them.