Unemployment and health inequalities – Innovative approaches in Mid and South Essex

Kevin Garrod, Anchor Programme Manager and Local Value Lead for Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, describes the important work being delivered in Southend and Basildon to support employment and reduce inequalities.

We all know how hard it is at the moment, with many feeling the impact of the cost of living and deprivation, and for some, inequality in their healthcare. As a major employer in mid and south Essex, the Anchor Programme has had a positive impact on addressing some of these issues already. The Anchor Programme is about large organisations investing back into their communities.

We have successfully supported local people into work and internships, with a special focus on disadvantaged groups, including those with learning disabilities,

In July, we were pleased to welcome Dr Bola Owolabi from NHS England to the Anchor Programme in Southend and Basildon,  where she saw three services helping to tackle health inequalities.

Bola first visited South Essex Community Hub (SECH) in Southend. The centre aims to empower local people to realise their full potential by providing services such as digital support, in-person counselling and volunteering opportunities. Our trust is working with SECH and other partners to support people living in some of the most deprived areas of Southend to secure quality work at Southend Hospital or in another local health or care organisation.

Seven months into the project, we have seen almost 150 jobseekers, while 38 people have started a job in the NHS and 25 elsewhere. While this is good progress, the real impact is on our participants’ life chances, where they are:

  • Changing their expectations
  • Improving self-esteem and wellbeing
  • Raising their children’s aspirations
  • Reducing poverty and inequality, and being offered choice and hope.

Dr Owolabi then travelled to Basildon Hospital, where we have piloted a supported internship programme for young people with learning disabilities or autism. Run in partnership with South Essex College, 12 students gained work experience across hospital departments over nine months, preparing them for a successful transition from school to productive working life.

She met Elliot, who worked during his internship with our porters, and has since gained a job in the pharmacy stores. Elliot showed her his workplace, and how he helps his colleagues handle vital medicines for clinical areas. More than half of the interns now have roles at the trust, and the programme’s success means we’re expanding it to our hospitals in Broomfield and Southend from September.

The final part of the day was at the Essex Youth Service, where Bola heard from young people who have used Basildon Hospital’s emergency department. We’re working with Essex County Council to place youth workers in the emergency department, where they can engage with young people who arrive with vulnerabilities, including around mental health, and help them access support services.

The youth workers told Bola the difference this has made to the lives of these patients, including:

  • Improved relationships with parents
  • Better engagement at school and increased attendance
  • Better able to manage anxiety and stress, preventing them from re-attending the emergency department
  • Fewer risky behaviours, including drug use or self-harm.

Mid and south Essex is made up of 1.2 million people across Basildon, Chelmsford, Southend and Thurrock and their surrounding areas. It is a vibrant region, but one with deprivation and inequality, including in access to healthcare.

We’re working with our partners to address these health inequalities through projects such as the Anchor Programme. This recognises that our hospitals’ size, reach and influence mean that we are in a unique position to provide opportunities to our communities in Basildon, since 2019, and in Southend and Chelmsford, since 2021.

This ambitious programme enables us to understand better how we can be a real force for good, provide quality local employment and support staff in their professional development.

We continue to build evidence of what works, and opportunities such as Bola’s visit allow us to show our progress as we extend our programme to tackle health inequalities further into Essex.

To find out more about the Anchor Programme:

Visit our website:

Watch our short filming explaining the Anchor Programme in Southend:

Kevin Garrod

Kevin joined the NHS in April 2021 having spent time as the Chief Executive of Employ-Ability and as Head of Partnerships for Safe Network, the national third-sector safeguarding unit. He is an experienced leader with a track record of strategic development and implementation, which includes managing the Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust Anchor Programme to national prominence. One of his main tasks has been to influence local, regional and national government to reflect the importance of Anchors in their strategic planning to support local communities, including in mid and south Essex.