Message from our Chair, Peter Molyneux

This is the second major pandemic I have lived through. 

I lost many friends in the HIV Aids pandemic and I have not been OK as this pandemic has stirred up painful memories for me.

It has also pained me to see, yet again, a pandemic which has shone a light on the inequalities in our society - in this instance, in relation to Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought disruption, heartache and loss. Some have talked about the enjoyment they have found in the silence that has descended on our streets and of enjoying the bird song that is normally drowned out by traffic noise. For others - particularly those already struggling with social isolation prior to lockdown - this silence has not been a new or welcome experience. 

The negative impact of Covid-19 has also been felt keenly and disproportionately by BAME communities. This highlights systemic inequalities that reinforce the enduring and cumulative nature of BAME health inequalities and racism in our society. 

Recent events embodied in the murder of George Floyd have added something indescribable. Entrenched race inequality has horrific consequences.

The danger is that we normalise racial disparities in healthcare, we normalise the fact frontline workers are low paid, and that we normalise the existence of underlying health conditions in some communities.

The danger is that we continue to accept that BAME communities have the poorest health outcomes, because to address it is simply too complicated. It is all too easy, on a subject of this sensitivity, to lapse into euphemisms and avoid talking frankly about racism. Yet we need to name it in order to do something about it.

Let's not limit ourselves.  We've done amazing things at speed in recent weeks across health and care services. That must create an opportunity to do things differently and to really focus on improving the health and wellbeing of the whole population we serve. Let's apply this to inequalities as well, to ensure the 'new normal' does not further embed racism and inequality.

The chairs of the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and NHS trusts in Sussex came together recently to discuss what each of our organisations is doing to address the challenges that Covid-19 has raised. This means doing everything we can across our health and care system to acknowledge and address the issues that have been raised by our full time staff, by bank and agency staff, by patients, by carers, and our wider population. 

At Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, we are introducing a risk assessment process to determine the practical steps we need to take in order support the safety and wellbeing of our BAME workforce. We want to create a framework for line managers to have a supportive, safe and honest conversations with staff. Our Board of Directors recently published a statement on this.

In my role as Chair I will do my best to ensure all voices and views are valued and treated as the valuable resource they are. Achieving this across our society means creating the space to discuss uncomfortable issues. If we truly want to understand what is happening in our communities then we need to look at issues like racism, homophobia and misogyny. We need to trust people as experts in their own lives. We need to transform their experience by transferring power to them and involving them in decision making processes. 

I want to leave you with a quote from one of my heroes: James Baldwin the American author the civil rights activist and queer activist. 

He said:

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. 

We need to face up to the issues Covid-19 has shone a light on - as individuals, as a health and care system and as a society. And we need to make the space to talk about them properly. This is the only way we will be able to put practical action in place to respond. Events of the recent weeks have shown it's high time we did.

Peter Molyneux, Chair

Advice, information and advice is available on our website about managing your mental health and wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic.