Homeless people sleeping rough in South London are benefitting from on the spot checks and same-day registration with a GP thanks to a project set up by specialist nurses.
The project, based in Southwark and the first of its kind in London, involves nurses from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation NHS Trust and is supported by homelessness charity St Mungo’s.
“Our team of nurses go out early in the morning and start conversations with people sleeping rough”
Kickstarted with funding from the Queen’s Nursing Institute, it aims to reduce recurring visits to accident and emergency by rough sleepers with minor ailments or long standing health problems.
A pilot for the programme started in June 2017 and the project officially started in January 2018, noted a trust spokesman who highlighted that it was World Homelessness Day today.
Research by the charity in 2016 found nearly half its clients who slept rough had a physical condition that substantially affected their health and required ongoing treatment or medication.
But homeless people often struggle to access healthcare, noted Kendra Schneller, one of six homelessness nurses from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Health Inclusion Team who work with rough sleepers.
“Some people feel unable to get the healthcare they need because the day centres they visit have restrictions around substance and alcohol use,” she said.
She added: “This is one of the factors that can mean they are more likely to present to A&E in a state of crisis.”
“We really value the fantastic skills that the homelessness nurses from Guy’s and St Thomas’ bring”
The project sees nurses go out first thing in the morning to meet rough sleepers and provide information, advice and treatment.
“Our team of nurses go out early in the morning, around 6.30am, and start conversations with people sleeping rough on our streets,” said Ms Schneller.
“We give them advice on how to look after their long-term conditions such as hepatitis C and kidney disease,” she said.
“We also provide vaccinations including the flu vaccine, look after wounds, screen for diseases like hepatitis B and C and HIV and give medication if needed,” she noted.
Nurses will also drive people to a local GP if necessary and help them register if they are not already registered.
“We want people to know they are entitled to GP services as everyone is. They don’t need to attend A&E to get the care that they need,” said Ms Schneller.”
London continues to be the region with the highest number of rough sleepers, with local authorities reporting that more than 1,000 people sleep rough on any given night.
- New homeless health nursing projects to receive funding
- Nurses help hold first ‘pop-up hub’ to reach town’s homeless
- New nurse-led mental health service for rough sleepers in Suffolk
Eammon Egerton, St Mungo’s outreach team manager in Southwark, said one of the key strengths of this project was the fact that care was provided on the spot.
“This is an exciting project that, unlike other health initiatives, means we’re able to support people sleeping rough with healthcare, on the streets, right there and then,” he said.
“We really value the fantastic skills that the homelessness nurses from Guy’s and St Thomas’ bring to complement our outreach workers, without being at all intrusive,” he added.
The support continues from there, he explained, with the ultimate aim of helping people move away from the streets.
“We see that poor health is a barrier to engaging with services and moving away from the streets but we follow up to introduce them to other services that can support them in the long term,” he said.
“In that way we are really making a difference to people rebuilding their lives,” said Mr Egerton.
Guy’s and St Thomas’ Health Inclusion Team was initially awarded £5,000 by the Queen’s Nursing Institute to run the project until December 2018.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has agreed to continue funding the nurses until March 2020.