Rough sleepers in Southwark are the first in London to benefit from immediate, same day health checks thanks to a project set up by specialist nurses from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.
The project, which is supported by St Mungo’s, aims to reduce recurring visits to A&E by people sleeping rough with minor ailments or long standing health problems.
More than 7,400 people slept rough in the capital during 2017-18. 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.
In 2016, St Mungo’s found that 49% of their clients who had slept rough had a physical condition that substantially affected their health and required ongoing treatment or medication.
Eammon Egerton, St Mungo’s Outreach team manager in Southwark, says “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.
“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. And the support continues from there. Our aim is to help move people away from the streets for good, and to have a place to call home.
“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. In that way we are really making a difference to people rebuilding their lives.”
Kendra Schneller, one of six homelessness nurses, added: “Some people feel unable to get the health care they need because the day centres they visit have restrictions around substance and alcohol use.
“This is one of the factors that can mean they are more likely to present to A&E in a state of crisis.
“Our team of nurses go out early in the morning, around 6.30am, and start conversations with people sleeping rough on our streets. We give them advice on how to look after their long-term conditions such as Hepatitis C and kidney disease.
“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.
“We’ll even drive people to a local GP, if they aren’t 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.”