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ROLE MODEL

'We must show people that the homeless population are human beings'

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Susan Semple, 2014 Bevan Prize winner, talks about caring for Belfast’s homeless people

Susan Semple

A shocking total of 19,500 homeless men, women and children are living in Northern Ireland. Belfast Health and Social Care Trust nurse Susan Semple works daily to aid and provide healthcare for this part of the population and was awarded the 2014 Bevan Prize for Health and Wellbeing in recognition of her work at her trust as a healthcare coordinator for homeless people.

“I was so delighted to win the Bevan Prize last April,” says Ms Semple. “It was especially satisfying to me because it was a reward for the people I work with: the homeless population.

“Through winning the prize I was able to raise more awareness of this population in Northern Ireland and draw attention to their need for proper healthcare.”

Ms Semple and her colleagues at Single Homeless Health Care, a nurse practitioner-led initiative, have 23 homeless facilities and a day centre for those who street sleep within North Belfast. It is currently the only service in Northern Ireland dedicated to meeting the physical health needs of the homeless population.

“Through winning the prize I was able to raise more awareness of [the homeless] population in Northern Ireland and draw attention to their need for proper healthcare”

“What the Bevan Prize also recognises that I find so valuable is the nurses out there working in areas nobody has any idea about, such as myself. I think this shows student nurses and nurses entering the profession that there are areas other than the hospital that they can thrive in and contribute to.”

What started as a singular effort on Ms Semple’s part became a team effort throughout her trust and with other healthcare professionals as well. This effort covers dental services, paediatric services, immunisation screenings and health education for the homeless population they treat.

Ms Semple led the initiative that began to take the treatment to the homeless called “door step” delivery straight to the people. This service provides one-to-one open-access clinic sessions on a weekly basis within the hostel setting. This allows for consistency of care, monitoring and evaluation for the patients.

“Not only do we wish to provide healthcare for the homeless population, we wish to challenge the negative perceptions many have about homeless people, which we succeed in by involving other organisations and professionals to participate in the programmes,” Ms Semple says.

Ms Semple and the service have been successful with their integrated multidisciplinary team approach in demonstrating the healthcare goals that can be reached when working for the good of their homeless clients. What Ms Semple feels is crucial is accepting a person being treated for “whom they are, and delivering healthcare in an environment where they are comfortable and feel safe”.

“We must show other people and healthcare providers that the homeless population are human beings - they just do not have the opportunity we do.

“There can still be a stigma in the healthcare service and sometimes people are not treated with the dignity they deserve. If we give them that, they will be more likely to seek healthcare as a top priority.”

Ms Semple confesses to being “truly in awe” of all the other incredible Bevan Prize nurses she was nominated alongside.

“I think the Bevan Prize is so important as it celebrates the hard and caring work that nurses do every day”

“I think the Bevan Prize is so important as it celebrates the hard and caring work that nurses do every day. I’m proud to have won this award for my efforts, but I’m proud mainly to have won it for the population I work for - their health and wellbeing is the best prize of all,” she says.

The 2015 Bevan Prize for Health and Wellbeing will be presented to the 2015 winner at a reception in the House of Commons on 7 July.

● For more information visit Bit.ly/BevanPrize2015

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