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Nurses lead initiative to help homeless people

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A pioneering project to help improve the health of London’s homeless is being piloted by accident and emergency nurses at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, West London.

Under the homeless health peer mentor service, A&E nurses will train former homeless people to act as mentors to homeless patients.

Mentors will then provide patients with support during follow-up care after their hospital visit, such as escorting them to GP appointments.

During the year-long project, nurses will also refer all homeless patients who attend St Mary’s A&E to a single point of access in the community, linked with specialist primary care teams.

St Mary’s A&E nurse consultant Mary Dawood, who is leading the scheme, said having no permanent address can make it difficult for homeless people to follow advice given in A&E, such as keeping wounds clean, seeing a GP or keeping an outpatient appointment.

As a consequence, these patients often return to the emergency department a couple of days later.

“We tend to see the same homeless people very frequently. Often they have drug, alcohol or mental health problems too,” she said.

“For the first time, we are seeing a coordinated multi-agency plan to tackle the healthcare of homeless people in a strategic way, rather than just feeling we are applying a sticking plaster to what is in fact a much bigger wound,” she added.

The project, scheduled to begin in September, will be run jointly by Imperial College Healthcare, NHS Westminster and homeless charity Groundswell.

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