April 7, 2021


By 2020 Diana Award recipient, Gabrielle Mathews, from London

Gabrielle received her Diana Award for her work advocating for the involvement of children and young people in strategic decision making and policy development. She is the first NHS England Youth Expert Advisor and was appointed to the NHS Assembly, advising the board of NHS England Improvement, through which she continues to raise the status of children and young people’s health.

The theme for World Health Day 2021 is ‘Building a fairer, healthier world’. To me, this speaks to the path we’re going to forge as we ease lockdown, recover NHS services and lay out our societal vision for life post-COVID.

I’ve been lucky to have been able to influence so much change this past year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. As the youngest member of the NHS Assembly, I advised the boards of NHS England and Improvement on the white paper regarding the new structures of health systems across the country. As a youth representative on the BackYouthAlliance, I worked in talks with Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) around how vital youth services can continue to receive support and recognition in the Spring Review and COVID support fund.

Whilst I have been busier and felt my personal impact grow, I’ve been acutely aware of how a majority of people, particularly young people, have been isolated and lost control over so much of their lives. Access to education and essential health services are at the core of enabling children to achieve their full potential. Both disappeared in 2020. Speaking with young people through my work, I’ve learnt of an increasing burden of caring responsibilities, difficulties focusing on schoolwork or accessing remote lessons, grieving the loss of family members, struggling financially, and most universally, how mental health has suffered.

Moreover, I have been keenly aware of the individuals at the intersections of race, socioeconomic factors, living with long term health conditions or disabilities, or are members of the LGBTQ+ community. We’ve heard the notion that COVID-19 has ‘revealed the fault-lines in our society’, meaning those people have felt more neglected and underserved than ever before. As COVID-19 has highlighted, some people are able to live healthier lives and have better access to health services than others – due to the conditions in which they are born, grow, live, work and age.

Since joining a hospital’s Young Person’s Advisory Group aged 15, she has been volunteering and campaigning for more youth representation in health policy.

Today is an important day because it raises awareness of such issues and help us to think more about our role as leaders in building a health system that works for all. We need to work with the communities that have been worst impacted, but we need to do this meaningfully.

So, on World Health Day today, let’s all take the time to consider what we can do to tackle inequality. Let’s consider how we can start taking steps to building a fairer, healthier world hand in hand with our communities:

  • Don’t be afraid of saying ‘I don’t know’. Acknowledge where you need to learn and be willing to do so.
  • See yourself as a leader, we underestimate the impact we have on the people around us, so many of us have a huge ability to influence those around us, let’s use that opportunity to champion a more equal future.
  • Consider structures of power: Take time to go to your communities, rather than bringing young people to a board meeting, how can you change your practices to be more accessible and better reflect the people they hope to serve.
  • Stay curious: Listen openly and put aside assumptions.
  • Take the time to reflect: Trialling new ways of working is scary, what are your personal barriers to doing so, or motivations, how can you overcome or tackle them?

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