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COVID-19: More support for bereaved families in Maidstone

Friday 22nd January 2021

More bereavement support will be offered to Kent families who have lost loved ones during the pandemic, writes Ciaran Duggan.

The NHS and Kent County Council (KCC) have proposed to invest £1.6million into improving services across the 13 districts by August, including specialist help for residents aged under 25 and those who have lost people to suicide.

Maidstone County Hall chiefs say there is a “gap” in provision, highlighting the damaging impact Covid has caused on mental health as more than 90,000 people have died from the virus in the UK.

Consequently, two new contracts will be handed out to private firms to deliver extra help over the next three years, with an optional two-year extension.

KCC’s public health committee agreed to pursue the proposals during a virtual meeting yesterday (January 21). Cllr Diane Marsh (Con), of Gravesend East, who is the deputy cabinet member for public health, said: “It is dark times out there.

“A lot of people are struggling and we have certainly seen a number of suicides over this pandemic and a difficult time for young people, so these new services will go a long way to help suffering families.”

Bereavement support groups already exist in Kent but some are run by untrained volunteers while others are oversubscribed amid the pandemic.

Under KCC’s recovery plan, one contractor will provide specialist counselling to those from pre-school age up to 25, who are experiencing complex grief.

Without this, young people face an increased risk of depression, drug abuse and self-harm. The aim is to improve their mental and physical health.

Trained counsellors will conduct the sessions, delivered in venues suitable to the child, such as schools or youth clubs. Referrals can be conducted by GPs.

Commenting on the need for more services, KCC’s main opposition leader Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), of Maidstone, said: “There are two stages of bereavement.

“There is the initial shock, where you may reject counselling, but then three to six months later you can get a second wave of depression.”

Meanwhile, a second contractor will be hired to help residents grieving over the loss of close family members or friends to suicide. The cases are often referred by the police and coroners.

Practical advice will be given on how to cope with a coroner’s inquest or how to respond to a journalist who asks questions about a person who has just died.

Supporting the decision, KCC’s public health director Andrew Scott-Clark said: “This is really timely given the pressures we have seen in our populations from Covid and lost of loved ones.”

A service will be ready in the summer after the tendering process is completed.