A qualitative evaluation of Southwark Council’s public health response to mitigating the mental health impact of the 2017 London bridge and borough market terror attack

Sandra Jumbe*, Adrienne Milner, Megan Clinch, Jonathan Kennedy, Richard J. Pinder, Carolyn A. Sharpe, Kevin Fenton

*Corresponding author for this work

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    Background: Over recent years there have been several major terror attacks in cities across Europe. These attacks result in deaths, physical injuries, and pose long-term threats to mental health and wellbeing of large populations. Although psychologists have completed important work on mental health responses to disaster exposure including terrorist attacks, the mental health impacts of such attacks have been comparatively less examined in academic literature than the acute health response to physical injuries. This paper reflects on Southwark Council’s pioneering public mental health response to the June 2017 terror attack at London Bridge and Borough Market. It aims to explore perceptions of the mental health impact of the incident by those living and working in the borough. 

    Methods: A rapid qualitative evaluation informed by the logic underpinning Southwark Council’s response was conducted. Seven formative interviews were undertaken with individuals involved in the response planning and/or delivery, enabling the evaluation team to establish the response’s theoretical basis. Subsequently, nineteen semi-structured interviews with consenting Council employees, residents, business owners, and workers from the Borough were conducted to understand perceived mental health impacts of the attack and the success of the Council response. Thematic analysis of transcribed interviews was undertaken to evaluate the extent to which the response was implemented successfully. 

    Results: Participants reported feeling the attack had a wide-reaching negative impact on the mental health of residents, those working in the borough and visitors who witnessed the attack. Delivering the response was a challenge and response visibility within the community was limited. Participants suggested a comprehensive systematic approach to health needs assessment informed by knowledge and relationships of key Council workers and community stakeholders is imperative when responding to terrorist incidents. Improved communication and working relationships between statutory organisations and community stakeholders would ensure community groups are better supported. Prioritising mental health needs of terror attack responders to mitigate persisting negative impacts was highlighted. 

    Conclusions: This article highlights a potential public health approach and need for developing robust practical guidance in the aftermath of terror attacks. This approach has already influenced the response to the Christchurch mosque shooting in 2019.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number1427
    JournalBMC Public Health
    Issue number1
    Early online date19 Jul 2021
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Jul 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:This research project was commissioned by Southwark Council with funding received from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity (GSTC).

    All authors report receiving a grant from the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity that funded the research reported in this paper. KF, RP and CS were members of staff of Southwark Council at the time of the incident and during the evaluation. SJ, AM, MC and JK declare that they have no other competing interests that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

    Open Access: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

    Publisher Copyright: © 2021, The Author(s).

    Citation: Jumbe, S., Milner, A., Clinch, M. et al. A qualitative evaluation of Southwark Council’s public health response to mitigating the mental health impact of the 2017 London bridge and borough market terror attack. BMC Public Health 21, 1427 (2021).

    DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-11447-8


    • Mental health
    • Public health
    • Qualitative research
    • Terror attack


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