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Featured Thursday, Dec 13 2018

NHS pop-up clinics for the homeless return for a second year running ahead of Christmas

An innovative NHS service which provides pop-up clinics for the homeless in Bracknell has returned to the area’s night shelter for a second year running.

Commissioned by East Berkshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the clinics are provided by Berkshire Primary Care in conjunction with the Pilgrims Hearts Trust – a local charity which set up Bracknell’s night shelter for the homeless in 2014.

Introduced as a pilot between 1 December 2017 and 31 March 2018, the NHS service aimed to improve access to health services for people who are homeless.

Analysis of the pilot’s data showed that there were no hospital admissions or deaths for homeless people in Bracknell during that time, compared to the same period the previous year (2016/2017), where 10 admissions and two deaths were recorded.

Helping to make a difference in the community, the pilot was further funded to carry on throughout the year. However, as the night shelter runs each winter for a period of four months only, the pop-up clinics moved to local daytime drop-in centres, provided by both the Pilgrims Hearts Trust and the Kerith Community Church.

The pop-up clinics have since relocated to the night shelter as the service re-opened earlier this month and will run until 31 March 2019. The clinics take place every other Thursday evening at Newbold Church, one of seven churches who form part of the night shelter service.

The daytime pop-up clinic at the drop in session at the Kerith Centre will also continue to run every other Tuesday afternoon.

The pop-up clinics are staffed by a registered NHS GP, nurse and a member of admin staff who together offer a range of services. These include health checks, advice and guidance, referrals, dressing wounds, vaccinations as well as issuing prescriptions. The service also allows the medical team to liaise with others when needed, such as housing and the local community mental health team.

Helen Snowden, Director of Operations for Berkshire Primary Care (BPC), said: “It was our local healthwatch who approached us with the idea of offering the service, suggesting we contacted the Pilgrims Hearts Trust who were already doing a tremendous amount of work with the homeless and more vulnerable.

“As a federation for local GPs in Bracknell, we put the suggestion to our members to see if we could staff the clinics and the response was amazing. With suitable IT in place, risk assessments carried out and relevant data agreements signed to enable us to access patient data securely whilst working off site, we were able to go ahead and launch the service in December 2017 for an initial period of four months.

She added: “The feedback we received from those who accessed the clinics as well as others was great and we felt that our efforts, working alongside Pilgrims Heart, helped to reduce the number of hospital admissions and deaths that year. Not only were we in a position to intervene earlier and provide suitable medical assistance and care, but we were also able to signpost people to others who could help.

“We are grateful to the CCG for allowing us to continue this work throughout the year and are delighted to be providing it at the Night Shelters again this year.

“For some homeless and vulnerable people, visiting their GP is not an option for a variety of reasons. Therefore reaching out to them and others is certainly a step in the right direction as the benefits are two-fold, both for the person and the NHS.”

Katerina Nash, Senior CCG Commissioning Manager, said: “Pilots such as these are crucial for people who are homeless and vulnerable, especially during the winter months, and form part of a national initiative to improve access to general practice services.

“A similar pilot is running in Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead, and Slough will be launching its pilot early next month.

She added: “We will continue to evaluate all pilots to get a better understanding of the needs of both homeless and vulnerable groups to build a sustainable service moving forward. “

Here is what one person, who wishes to remain anonymous, had to say after accessing the pop-up clinics recently: “Having the outreach healthcare team has made a big difference. You don’t just have a 10 minute appointment with them – they have more time to listen to what is really going on in my life.
“They have helped me to get my prescriptions weekly and in a dosset box so I only have to carry a small amount of tablets with me – this is really important as my voices sometimes tell me to take an overdose.
He added: “They have referred me to physio for my back and shoulder and helped diagnose me with Fibromyalgia. You can’t beat them, they are the best team!”

Elaine Chalmers-Brown, Director of Pilgrims Heart Charity, said: “Pilgrim Hearts Trust runs the Bracknell night shelter and a bi-weekly drop in for the homeless. We have been working with Healthwatch and Berkshire Primary Care to expand the primary care offered to those who use the facilities.

“This has been done by providing a mobile GP and nurse who attend the Night Shelter. They are able to see people immediately and pick up those who do not attend, or are not registered with any GP to obtain a health check, flu injections and an immediate prescription service.

“The result has been dramatic, with a noticeable pick up in the visible health and well-being of several of the regulars. This may not seem much, but Pilgrim Hearts have seen two deaths each year in this local population of homeless.”

Mark Saunders, Project Lead for Healthwatch Bracknell Forest said: “We are delighted that the clinic will return this year. We feel this was much needed and has contributed to a better health experience by the people using the service. BPC have run the service very well and patient feedback has been great”

Please note that the NHS pop-up clinics at the night shelter do not offer a drop-in service, as the shelter itself is only open to those who can produce a pass allowing them entry. For more information on how to obtain a pass, please contact the Pilgrim Hearts Trust directly on 01344 307030.

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