A groundbreaking initiative aimed at promoting racial equity within mental health services in Leeds has secured a significant accolade at this year’s Health Service Journal (HSJ) awards.

Named Mental Health Innovation of the Year at the ceremony on November 16, 2023, Synergi-Leeds is a collaborative effort involving the NHS, Public Health, and the local community and voluntary sectors (VCS). Additionally, it was a finalist in the NHS Race Equality Award category.

The HSJ Awards, which acknowledge outstanding contributions to healthcare nationwide, received an unprecedented 1,456 entries this year, with Synergi-Leeds standing out among the 223 projects and individuals shortlisted.

The Synergi-Leeds Partnership, initiated in 2017 by Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Leeds City Council’s Public Health team, and other VCS services, represents a comprehensive strategy to address ethnic disparities in mental health. Evolving into a growing network of statutory and voluntary sector organizations, the initiative is supported by the Synergi Collaborative Centre and, more recently, by Words of Colour.

Utilizing co-produced ‘Creative Spaces Events,’ the partnership amplifies the voices of individuals with lived experience, challenging prejudices and motivating action. The initiative also includes an all-age grants programme that financially supports grassroots projects.

A primary focus of Synergi-Leeds has been tackling the enduring issue of the overrepresentation of individuals from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities in crisis mental health services or detained under the Mental Health Act. Alarming statistics reveal that Black individuals are more than four times as likely as white individuals to be detained under the Mental Health Act. Additionally, people from Black and Minority Ethnic groups are overrepresented in inpatient and crisis services, less likely to have support from a GP before admission, and less likely to be referred for psychological therapies.

Councillor Salma Arif, Leeds City Council executive member for adult social care, public health and active lifestyles, said; “I’m so pleased that Synergi-Leeds has been recognised and commended with these awards. The partnership is such an integral part of our work in Leeds to ensure our mental health services are for everybody and that we tackle any prejudice, stigma or inequalities in our health systems. It’s important that everyone, regardless of their culture, background or race gets the right mental health support they need at the right time.

“The Synergi team have supported conversation which explicitly focuses on racial equity in mental health, and this is a powerful piece of work.”

Sharon Prince, consultant psychologist at the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which provides mental health services in Leeds, said: “We’re absolutely delighted the Synergi partnership has won such a prestigious award. There is now a growing network of health, social care and third sector organisations helping to reduce ethnic inequalities in mental health.

“This award is dedicated to Heather Nelson, chief executive of the Leeds Black Health Initiative who sadly passed away in July 2023 and who championed Synergi-Leeds from the start. Her commitment and passion to address ethnic inequalities in a creative and innovative way was inspirational to us all.”

The HSJ Awards judges said: “Synergi-Leeds Partnership is an innovative and ambitious citywide approach to tackling ethnic inequalities in mental health. The partnership’s growing network of statutory and voluntary sector organisations instrumentally supports one of the Leeds All-Age Mental Health Strategy priorities, reducing the overrepresentation of people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities admitted in crisis.

“The Network adopts a whole system, life course approach; using co-produced Creative Spaces Events to centre the voices of people with lived experience and engage attendees through creative approaches; challenging prejudices and galvanising individuals to act.

“Synergi also has an all-age grants programme supporting grass roots projects. The judges were impressed by the passion and enthusiasm displayed by this team. It’s clear that this programme is well organised and is achieving positive outcomes, demonstrating an exemplary use of the voice of lived experience.”