Hackney’s Richmond Road GP practice runs an annual event showcasing the mental health services available in the borough. Photograph: Richmond Road Medical Centre

A new four-year mental health strategy for east London has been launched, with a key aim to improve access for vulnerable people such as rough sleepers and drug addicts.

The plan is the first joint strategy covering City and Hackney, developed by the area’s clinical commissioning group (CCG) in partnership with Hackney Council and the City of London Corporation.

A major focus is to tackle undiagnosed mental health needs of people who slip through the net if they do not access services early enough and end up in A&E, using an ambulance or calling 111.

One example in Hackney is the commission of a pilot to embed mental health specialists at the Greenhouse Clinic on Tudor Road, which provides free healthcare and advice to homeless people.

In 2017/18, 49 per cent of the 118 rough sleepers in Hackney had mental health needs.

The CCG is also trialling a new service for people who frequently use A&E or ambulances, to spot instances where physical illness may reflect underlying psychological issues.

Just under 275 people in City and Hackney have attended hospital or used A&E 10 times or more in a single year without a clear physical cause – amounting to over 3,000 attendances.

A Mental Health Triage System, which sees healthcare professionals accompany police on patrols, is being rolled out in the City following a successful pilot.

The service will operate for seven days a week, and the intervention from mental health experts has been shown to improve outcomes for people experiencing a crisis that would otherwise lead to them being sectioned. It is also said to have alleviated pressure on emergency services.

In Hackney, better access to support is offered through organisations such as Bikur Cholim, which provides talking therapy for the Charedi Orthodox Jewish community, and the Memory Wellbeing Project, which gives emotional support to BME people living with dementia, as well as their carers and family members.

The new strategy aims to extend this kind of access to those who are most vulnerable.

Along with rough sleepers and addicts, the partners are targeting LGBTQ+ people, older adults and young black men and boys.

The latter are under-represented in early engagement of services and support, but over-represented in acute services such as inpatient admissions or detentions under the Mental Health Act.

Last year, Hackney Council and City of London Corporation were the first governing bodies in the capital to sign up to the national Prevention Concordat for Better Mental Health.

The Concordat outlines a series of actions that all partners can take to ensure better collaboration to improve mental health care, promotion and prevention.

The boroughs are supported in this by local organisations including the CCG, Healthwatch Hackney, East London Foundation Trust and Homerton Hospital.

Hackney’s mental health champion Cllr Tom Rahilly said the new joint strategy will “bring many benefits for residents”, adding: “It will enhance the joint partnership working and collaborative approach between all partners to ensure we are working more effectively on prevention and improving outcomes in mental health.”

Rahilly’s counterpart in the City, Matthew Bell, added: “This new strategy takes a whole population approach, whilst ensuring the most vulnerable people in our local areas will receive some of the support they need.

“However, mental health starts at home with good education, good jobs, good salaries and secure neighbourhoods. 

“This is an important, bold initiative and a valuable societal resource until such a time as the other things I have mentioned are in place.”

The Citizen recently reported that Hackney was behind a 100 per cent rise in the number of mental health first aiders in London.

Richmond Road GP surgery in Dalston runs an annual ‘Healthy Mind’ event which showcases the range of mental health services on offer in the borough.

Anyone worried about their mental health, or someone else’s, can talk to their GP to discuss the support available.

To find out more about the various mental health and wellbeing services in Hackney, or to read the Mental Health Strategy 2019-23 in full, head to hackney.gov.uk/mental-health

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