New Alliance to mobilise systems leaders to tackle ethnic inequalities

A national Alliance to mobilise mental health leaders to collaborate, show leadership and be accountable to eradicate ‘unacceptable’ ethnic inequalities in mental health systems launches today (Thursday 25th November 2021).

The Synergi National Pledge Alliance is being spearheaded by the Synergi Collaborative Centre and senior leaders who signed the UK’s first National pledge to reduce ethnic inequalities in mental health systems.

Inspired by the Pledge commitment for signatories to ‘provide national leadership on this critical issue’, the Alliance will respond to the lack of progress, over six decades, on tackling ethnic inequalities for people diagnosed with a severe mental illness.

Supported by 28 senior leaders in NHS and public sector mental health care in Birmingham, London, Greater Manchester and Leeds, and backed by the Chair of the NHS Race and Health Observatory Marie Gabriel CBE, the Alliance aims to:

  • Ensure that black and minority ethnic people’s lived experience of mental illness is centralised as a priority in commissioning.
  • Collaborate on shared learning and good practice in relation to the Pledge commitments.
  • Promote innovation in tackling ethnic inequalities in mental health care.
  • Increase national understanding of the priority areas for policy and systems change.
  • Accelerate learning in areas struggling to implement meaningful change.
  • Address how best to embed sustainability into the mental health system.
  • Share information around data, funding and commissioning.

Marie Gabriel CBE, Chair, NHS Race & Health Observatory, said: ‘Launching an Alliance of Pledge Makers is a great idea as collaboration with other leaders to reduce ethnic inequalities in mental health is essential. Collaboration is about learning from each other, and about best practice and what works well so we can accelerate the learning for national impact. Collaboration is also about building a movement and building momentum, so unless we reach out and collaborate, not just within our own local group but across wider geographies, across mental health, we will not have the impact that we want to have as leaders.’

The enduring statistics indicate the urgency for change. Compared with White people, Black people are more than five times as likely to receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia; are around three times much more likely to have police contact prior to admission; have a much lower chance of referral to counselling services; and are more than eight times as likely to be given a Community Treatment Order after being detained for treatment in hospital.

Roisin Fallon-Williams, CEO, Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘Being part of the Alliance is an acknowledgement that we cannot reduce ethnic inequalities in mental health systems on our own. It also enables us to understand where we have paid lip service to accountability. Through both the Alliance and Pledge, we want to be clear about our accountability to our partners, to the communities we work with and to joint learning. Our system is coalescing around tackling inequalities, so there is now an opportunity for us to be ambassadors for the Pledge and the Alliance, as a mental health trust and across the West Midlands, the Midlands and the East of England.’

Warren Heppolette, Executive Lead, Strategy and System Development, Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership, said: ‘Being part of the Synergi National Pledge Alliance is about understanding how you drive meaningful, authentic and major change, which is what we are reaching for. This is because we recognise ethnic inequalities in mental health care are real and longstanding. The Pledge provides the necessary drive to ensure we, as a Greater Manchester Health and Social Care system, remain focused on delivering sustainable services to meet the mental health needs of ethnic minority people within Greater Manchester.’

Joy Francis, Co-Director, Synergi Collaborative Centre and the Pledge Lead, added: ‘Synergi is committed to transforming the narrative and experience for ethnic minority people with lived experience of severe mental distress. We know the statistics. They remain etched in our memory banks because they are persistent, unchanging and unacceptable. We are talking about real people and real lives, not just data. We have to move beyond just documenting ethnic inequalities and be accountable for visible and long-lasting change.’

The official announcement on the Synergi National Pledge Alliance will be made at its inaugural virtual Symposium on Thursday 25th November (10am-2.30pm). The Symposium will feature lived experience and voluntary and community sector narratives with shared learning from senior leaders in NHS and public sector mental health care from London, Greater Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham.

There will be special performances from award-winning writer and poet Derek Owusu and Malika Booker, award-winning poet and Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow, Leeds University.