Health Inequalities: Contributing to national and local consultations

Contributing to national and local consultations

For Fulfilling Lives South East (FLSE), engaging in formal consultations is a way of influencing systems change and connecting with key decision makers.

Engaging in consultations provides a way of informing and influencing the development and delivery of a project or programme, the commissioning or delivery of a service, or the development of a strategy or policy. Consultations offer the opportunity to engage with national Governmental agencies and public bodies, Local Authorities and Commissioners, in a dialogue to help them better understand your needs and opinions, which they will consider when developing policy and delivering services. Engagement in formal consultation provides one of the greatest opportunities for marginalised communities and voices to be heard in spaces which are not traditionally accessible.

The Kings’ Fund advocates that ‘people and communities using health and care services are best placed to understand what they need, what is working and what could be improved.’ Formal consultations provide an opportunity for those using services to have their say. 

The FLSE team has used opportunities to participate in consultations for this reason; to promote the voices, experiences and views of people with experiences of multiple and complex needs (MCN). In our work to tackle health inequalities, we participated in and contributed to the following four health-related consultations nationally and locally:

We have welcomed the opportunity to address and highlight inequalities for people experiencing MCN and feel that these consultations are symptomatic of a system that is ready for change and looking to listen to lived experiences. 

This blog contains an overview and summary of our responses, our messages and reflections on how the system can continue to improve. We also share our way of engaging with health-related consultations to encourage more agencies to engage in these opportunities as a way to champion the views of, and improvements for, the people they support.

Co-production and consultations

For all our responses to consultations, we have worked with the Service User and Engagement Team, volunteers and experts by experience, to build and shape our messages and recommendations. We think it incredibly important to represent our clients and amplify their voices when feeding into consultations and help tell their stories to demonstrate what impact (positive or negative) current local and national policies are having on their lives.

Louise Patmore, Programme Lead Participation Mental Health Collaborative with Sussex Health and Care Partnership, who we have closely worked with says that

Co production is so important in the transformation and development of our services in health. For many years we have had a “doing to” way of working and people have not been able to have effective choice or control over their health care. It is recognised that health seems to have a very specific problem about providing patient needs versus organisational want, be that financial saving or accommodating new services. Co production enables – or should – enable us to be able to hear from those that actively use services and its impact. We need to be open hearted and minded to the voice of people, especially those that have specific needs. Society is always judged on the way it treats the less able. We need to be able to think differently and using coproduction to be able to shine a light on our issues, become more transparent about them and work together in a diverse way to find solutions can only help to improve our services and provide better, more efficient ways of supporting people and reducing pressures on the system and making sure that people get the right type of treatment at the right time. It will help us with efficiency and economy but only if we truly coproduce and share power.

The people who participate benefit from inclusivity and services are known to become better the more involvement there is. It helps us to grow a listening culture and a more empathic culture that also supports staff wellbeing.’’

Similar sentiments have been expressed by Ian Harrison, our Coproduction and Engagement worker:

Co-producing consultations with people with lived experience is a must.  Our review of the Mental Health Act would not have been as in depth or as targeted without the contribution of one our volunteers.  The breadth of knowledge from their personal experience and their past work with people of this cohort surpassed our own by a large margin in particular areas.  Without their expertise and detailed knowledge of specific parts of the system and its effects on those it is designed to help, valuable information during a pivotal moment could have been lost, and the opportunity to affect change in a key area would have been missed.

1. The Mental Health Act- review

Since our submissions and previous blog post, the government responded to the Mental Health Act (MHA) review and we are happy to see an acknowledgement that the MHA doesn’t always work for patients, their families and carers. Our full blog to comment on the government’s next steps can be found here. We welcome the new guiding principles of choice and autonomy, least restriction, therapeutic benefit and the person as an individual in the Mental Health Act Review as the focus is now shifting to a more person-centred approach. 

However, we are uncertain how the proposed changes in the MHA can lead to increased funding into services and equity in place-based mental health care provisions and hope the Government can clarify this during 2022. 

2. The East Sussex Mental Health Inpatient Consultation

The FLSE team was keen to participate as we know that over 75% of FLSE clients have a self-identified disability, of which 84% had a mental health problem. We contributed extensively to the East Sussex Mental Health Inpatient-consultation and our suggestions and recommendations have been incorporated into the future service design plans for a new inpatient facility that will be built in Bexhill by 2024.

After multiple consultations and workshops throughout 2021 with the East Sussex Mental Health Inpatient Consultation team, we had representation from volunteers and experts by experience, the full report has been published.

In best practice public consultation, understanding the potential impacts of proposed changes to public services on vulnerable individuals and groups is vital. While every effort is made to reach out to these groups during consultation and engagement, there are often challenges and barriers to hearing first-hand feedback; this is perhaps particularly the case for those with multiple complex needs who may be experiencing crises or difficult personal circumstances.

In this context, the support and input of organisations like Fulfilling Lives South-East are invaluable; in a recent consultation around inpatient mental health services, the FLSE team took the time to take part in an interview with Opinion Research Services (ORS) researchers and a workshop for stakeholder organisations, and to prepare and submit a detailed response for inclusion in the final feedback report. The combination of professional expertise and lived experience that FLSE were able to bring to bear meant that the insights they provided via ORS contributed valuable evidence for conscientious consideration by senior leaders and decision makers in the NHS.

Charlie Wilson, ORS Senior Researcher and Public Consultation Lead, sharing his reflections on the impact of the FLSE engagement with the consultation.

3. The Women’s Health Strategy

Throughout 2021, there was a call for evidence to inform a new national Women’s Health Strategy. This call for evidence has now closed and the government has published its Vision for the Strategy in late December 2021.
The Vision document identifies six key areas of improvement: 

  • Menstrual health and gynaecological conditions
  • Fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss and postnatal support
  • The menopause
  • Healthy ageing and long-term conditions
  • Mental Health
  • The health impact of violence against women and girls

The full Strategy will be published in spring 2022 but in the meantime, we have written a letter to Maria Caulfield MP to share our reflections and recommendations to improve the health of women with MCN for, namely:

  • Women experiencing MCN are underrepresented in consultations;
  • We are concerned that women experiencing MCN have not been named as a separate category in the strategy;
  • We would like to see training on trauma informed approaches and a less siloed approach between physical and mental health throughout the NHS, adult social care and the third sector.

4. B&H Mental Health Crisis House Service- survey

In August 2021 we contributed to the B&H Mental Health Crisis House Service survey organised by the Brighton & Hove Clinical Commissioning Group. This service aims to provide short-term intensive support and care (e.g. 7 days) to patients to avoid hospitalisation.

Following the survey, the Council has put together an ambitious specification and contract for the new Crisis House service and commissioners are now in the process of reviewing applications from the tender.

Looking through the service specification, we are happy to see Multiple and Complex Needs defined in a similar way to FLSE’s definition; as people who experience several problems at the same time, such as mental ill health, homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, offending and family breakdown.

However, we noted that the new service will predominantly take referrals from the existing mental health trust services (SPFT). We would have liked to see the referral pathway to be widened beyond the SPFT Mental Health Urgent Care Services, with GPs and third sector organisations also being able to refer into the service. The service will have single rooms with en-suite bathrooms and we welcome this and included a recommendation on this as part of our feedback in August, However, we are concerned that there are no female only spaces required in the new specification. The Contract refers to specific patient cohorts who will be a priority for improving access to mental health crisis services, but MCN is not one of them.

On a positive note, there is a commitment for the service to provide support, which is Psychosocial and Trauma Informed, and includes a comprehensive training package for staff on trauma informed care and dual diagnosis. (p.22) We support these approaches as our work highlights how valuable this approach is to building trusting and supportive relationships with people who have MCN.

We are also pleased to see that it is part of the acceptance and inclusion criteria that people can access this service if they are ‘ready to engage with the Recovery Model and have consented to stay at the Service’ (page 17), so that people with a co-existing substance use and mental health needs aren’t excluded. And that the service will link patients with other statutory and voluntary sector services to support a patient’s health, substance misuse, mental health and social care.

Key messages for the healthcare system

Chief Medical Officer, Prof. Chris Whitty, is calling for a national strategy for public health as well as an increased investment in prevention and spending that supports population health to improve the health and wellbeing of coastal communities. The Kings Fund is also calling for a cross-governmental strategy to reduce health inequalities for people with MCN.

FLSE supports both of these national developments and calls locally for:

  1. MCN, or multiple disadvantage, to be named in local and national healthcare policies, strategies, and service contracts and paired with an expressed commitment to meeting the needs of this group. Due to the stark health inequalities faced by people with MCN, their needs must be factored into local Equalities Impact Assessments and given the same profile as other protected characteristics.
  2. Setting up a local review process to monitor deaths of people experiencing MCN and assess progress in improving health inequalities for this group.
  3. Offering choice to patients with MCN as crucial to increasing access to primary healthcare. We call for increased community-based primary care that enables engagement through walk-in clinics and drop-ins as well as healthcare professionals providing outreach into communities to build relationships and deliver care outside of traditional spaces. This can be enabled by scaling up existing good practices as suggested in the FLSE Bright Spots report.
  4. Integrating frailty scores as a routine clinical assessment tool with rapid access clinics to respond to these high frailty scores. This will enable the coordination of care for complex conditions for people with MCN.
  5.  A dedicated funding stream within Sussex’s new Integrated Care System to support the needs of people experiencing multiple disadvantage. This would be a vehicle to promote the commissioning of a cohesive, joined up healthcare response to meet the needs of this distinct group of people. 
  6.  Trauma-informed practice training to be delivered to all healthcare staff members to help improve communication with and service approaches for people experiencing MCN.

Reflections on the benefits and limitations of consultations

FLSE is aware that consultations provide an excellent opportunity for changing and influencing key decision makers. We have however noticed that the way they are being advertised for is inconsistent, irregular and at short notice. It can take the form of completing online questionnaires and surveys, and drafting reports in response to calls for evidence.

We understand that some organisations don’t have the resources or capacity to participate in the consultation process. Nevertheless, engagement in formal consultation provides one of the greatest opportunities for marginalised communities and voices to be heard in spaces which are not traditionally accessible.


Michaela Rossmann, Systems Change Officer

For further information about Fulfilling Lives work in this area, please contact:

Michaela Rossmann, Systems Change Officer

Rebecca Rieley, Systems Change Lead:  

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