Southwark rough sleepers are the first in London to get same-day health checks thanks to a pioneering initiative founded by nurses at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital.
The project, supported by the homelessness charity St Mungo’s, aims to prevent rough sleepers with minor ailments or long term health conditions from having to visit A&E.
Nurses in the initiative will give rough sleepers advice on their health problems, offer vaccination jabs and even drive them to a GP to get registered – all to make sure they do not end up in a crisis state in hospital.
Kendra Schneller, one of six homelessness nurses from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Health Inclusion Team working with rough sleepers, said: “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.”
She added: “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.”
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.
More than 7,400 people slept rough in London during 2017-18, and London continues to have more rough sleepers than any other local authority.
Eammon Egerton, St Mungo’s Outreach team manager in Southwark, said: “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.”
The scheme was initially funded with a £5,000 grant from The Queen’s Nursing Institute, but Government funding has been agreed until March 2020.