Cllr Christine Bannon has served on Knowsley Council for 13 years, and this year joins the council’s Cabinet for the first time, with responsibility for health.
It’s an issue that’s always been key in Knowsley – with rates of serious illnesses such as cancer and respiratory disease at higher than national average levels. But of course, the past 15 months have brought the enormous challenges of dealing with a pandemic and the many far-reaching consequences that come with it.
“It’s been an incredibly tough time for everyone,” says Cllr Bannon. “Over the past year, there’s been many worrying weeks when rates of COVID-19 infection in Knowsley were the highest in the whole country. People have lost loved ones or are living with the long term effects of this virus. Plus, there’s been the additional pressures of home schooling and money worries, along with needing to stay at home, which I know has also had a detrimental effect on people’s health and wellbeing.
“The effort that everyone in the community has put into bringing those rates down cannot be underestimated – people in Knowsley made real sacrifices in order to do the right thing and follow the guidance.
“We know this crisis is not yet over. But our vaccination programme is progressing well, and if we all play our part by having our two doses as soon as we’re eligible, that should prevent us from getting to crisis point again. We know that the vaccine offers us the best protection from this virus. But we’ve learnt many lessons from the past 15 months and we stand ready to continue to do whatever is needed to protect our communities.”
Cllr Bannon has plenty of first-hand experience of what life is like for frontline health and social care workers, having given 45 years’ service to the NHS. She started as a Cadet Nurse, aged 17, before leaving to have her first of three children. She returned as a nursing auxiliary at the Royal Liverpool and Broad Green Hospital Trust, where she also became Unison branch secretary. Finally, she worked as a Health Care Assistant at Alder Hey Hospital until her retirement.
She says: “The strain our NHS and social care services are under right now cannot be understated. I think people see that. They’re incredibly grateful for the work that they provide. At the start of all this, we all stayed at home to protect our NHS and, whilst the rules are now relaxing, this pandemic is not over yet. We can all keep playing our part by continuing to follow the rules, keeping our distance, wearing face coverings when required and getting regularly tested. We’ve come too far to go back now.”
Cllr Bannon’s new Health portfolio will continue to be a key one, even after the pandemic subsides. There are changes on the way to how local health and social care services are delivered, which she will oversee from the council’s perspective. And with a legacy of long waiting lists created by lockdowns, there are plenty of significant challenges to overcome.
“We know there is a huge backlog that’s been created by the pandemic,” says Cllr Bannon. “It’s not just people with COVID whose health has been severely affected by this lockdown. We don’t want to see any more unnecessary deaths so I’m urging anyone who has been putting off treatment or delaying seeing a doctor about any symptoms they might have – do not leave it any longer. Cancer and all the other serious illnesses have not gone away and it’s critical that we ensure all those who need treatment get it – quickly.
“I’m also very concerned about the impact that COVID and all the lockdowns have had on people’s mental health – and that’s an issue that affects all ages. I think there’ll be a lot of work to do in the coming years to support people’s mental, as well as physical, health and wellbeing.”
All in all, there’s a lot to do. But Cllr Bannon says the goal will remain the same – to ensure people living in Knowsley have access to high quality services and the ability to enjoy healthy, happy lives.
She says: “Unfortunately, even before the pandemic we had some major health inequalities to overcome. In my new role, I’ll be doing whatever I can to make sure people in Knowsley have access to the information and support they need to maximise their health and wellbeing, so we can continue to narrow that gap.”
Cllr Bannon’s portfolio also includes bringing health partners together through the Knowsley Health and Wellbeing Board, overseeing the Borough’s Public Health support and response, health improvement programmes, provision of mental health and wellbeing services and assessing the borough’s health needs post-COVID.