Homeless individuals often experience poor health, though can struggle to access primary healthcare services.
Recognising the need for greater support for local people experiencing homelessness, the North Staffordshire GP Federation in partnership with the Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Brighter Futures (a charity providing support to those who need extra help to live independent and fulfilled lives), launched the Homeless Health Service in 2019.
The service takes healthcare support directly to homeless individuals using a Community Outreach Vehicle, performing an early morning rough sleeper sweep before visiting specific hostels, and ‘soup kitchens’. Appointments are available by open access, with patients self-referring.
Staff include Jane Morton, an Advanced Nurse Practitioner (ANP) with a background in primary care and district nursing and Sue Herman, a Health Care Assistant with a background in community nursing. They work alongside an ANP, Rachael Swift, who has experience supporting people with alcohol dependency and a driver, Jason Lawlor, who also provides security and helps with community engagement. The team work closely with housing providers, drug and alcohol services, support agencies and probation services.
By hosting the service, the North Staffordshire GP Federation have enabled clinicians to have full access to the medical records of the people they care for. This was crucial during the height of the pandemic to enable people who were extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 infection to be safely isolated in hostels when provided with accommodation. The homeless health services also took the initiative to start providing a needle exchange service during the pandemic, when access to existing services was poor.
This innovative service was developed in response to the needs of the local community and has adapted to challenges posed by the pandemic. Engaging with different third sector providers and community services has ensured they can provide tailored support to the healthcare needs and life choices of individuals experiencing homelessness.
How do your local community support people experiencing homelessness?
Could your WiseGeneralPractice collaborate with different community providers, charities or local councils to support establishment of a similar service in your area?