26 January 2023

CNWL voting rights leads, Masum Khwaja and Maria Clarke recently presented at the Joint World Congress of the RCPsych Rehabilitation and Social Psychiatry Faculty and the World Association of Social Psychiatry (WASP) at the RCPsych London Offices on Tuesday 17 January 2023. The WASP World Congress returned to London for the first time since 2014 with a theme of Recovery from mental illness: challenges and solutions from across the globe.

The session was chaired by Jed Boardman. Jed is a retired consultant psychiatrist, visiting senior lecturer (social psychiatry) at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College, London, and Senior Policy Advisor Centre for Mental Health and lead for Social Inclusion at the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He has co-authored the book: Social Inclusion and Mental Health: Understanding Poverty, Inequality and Social Exclusion.

In the first part of the presentation Masum and Maria explained why supporting voting rights for those with mental illness is necessary, and why mental health staff and teams should actively support patients to register and to vote. They also presented on the work they have done to promote voting rights in CNWL and nationally and concluded by showing their coproduced voting rights film. A link to the film and their work is available here (note the content will be updated later this year). Their presentation can be downloaded here.

In the second part of the session, two West London NHS senior trainees, Dr Alexis Theodorou and Saima Ali, gave a superb presentation on the results of the second round of the first ever national survey of the promotion of voting rights by NHS Mental Health Trusts. The survey has shown that, since the first round of the audit a few years ago, that significantly more trusts have developed a Voting Rights policy and understand and are actively promoting voting rights for their patients. Their presentation is available here.

Tejal Patel, Head occupational therapist CNWL rehabilitation directorate, concluded the session, by giving an equally superb presentation on the experience of promoting voting rights within the CNWL psychiatric rehabilitation directorate. She included a BBC film on voting rights for mental health patients that was filmed within a CNWL rehab unit. The film is available via the CNWL voting rights link given above. The link to her presentation is available here.

Masum and Maria are calling on all directorates to follow the rehab directorates excellent work and consider actively supporting patients to register and to vote prior to the upcoming May 4 2023 local elections. The May elections will require, for the first time, photo ID (link to local elections) and to cast their vote using the advice and resources (will be updated in February/March) on the CNWL voting rights link) and it is therefore even more important than in previous years that staff support patients to register and to cast their vote. 

One other important change introduced by the Elections Act 2022 is the extension to who may act as a 'companion' and support someone to cast their vote in person at the polling booth: previously only close family members and those over 18 years old and eligible to vote in the same electoral ward could act as a companion. Now, anyone over the age of 18 eligible to vote anywhere in UK can act as a companion. This means CNWL staff eligible to vote anywhere in England can actively support a patient to cast their vote (in the actual booth) if the patient wishes for them to do so.

Social inclusion, citizenship and challenging discrimination are likely to improve recovery from mental illness and conversely social exclusion, lack of citizenship, and discrimination negatively impact mental health. Please fight for social justice and help your patients get their voice heard. Every vote matters!

Local elections in England in May 2023 | Electoral Commission