Fairfield General Hospital in Bury has become the first hospital in the UK to pledge to be part of the Homeless-Friendly programme – helping rough sleepers receive care before they fall dangerously ill.
A lack of permanent address means that many people experiencing homelessness believe they cannot get treatment at their local GP. Instead they often visit A&E to receive care.
But a partnership between The Northern Care Alliance NHS Group, which manages Fairfield General Hospital, and the Homeless-Friendly programme will ensure patients attending A&E in Bury are now also signposted to GPs, dentists and social workers that can help them with health and housing issues in the future.
“The inspiration behind getting hospitals to become Homeless-Friendly came from a rough sleeper who told us that he had walked eight miles to receive treatment whilst in agony” said Dr Zahid Chauhan, creator of the Homeless-Friendly programme. “He should have been able to see a local GP to prevent that emergency happening at all. If he walked into A&E at Fairfield today, he would receive excellent treatment as normal, but now also the address of a Homeless-Friendly surgery in his neighbourhood and even details of organisations who could help him with housing, finding a job and getting back onto his feet.”
The Homeless-Friendly programme was pioneered in Greater Manchester after Dr Chauhan and local out-of-hours staff at BARDOC became aware of the chronic health problems being suffered by rough sleepers – including malnutrition and appalling dental pain. Adopted by GP practices across the region, Bury has embraced the programme fully with its Council funding health information cards for rough sleepers, BARDOC providing telephone support and guidance, and practices pledging to become Homeless-Friendly.
Vicky Riding, Chief Executive of BARDOC said: “Traditionally it is only major cities like Manchester where you would find services for people experiencing homelessness. But the population within Bury has grown and includes those living in temporary accommodation on the verge of homelessness. This is the NHS at its best, seeing a need and addressing it.”
October marks the beginning of a busier time for A&E units – including Fairfield General Hospital. Dr Andrea Abbas, A&E Clinical Director for Fairfield General Hospital, said: “With the cold and wet weather, homeless people attend A&E but often with housing needs and non-medical issues. Of course our unit has and always will be homeless-friendly in the way it treats all of those who come through our doors, but this scheme will help us to let our homeless patients know they will be treated with respect and dignity and to to signpost them towards further help and support, whilst in their current situation.”
Staff at Fairfield General Hospital have received training on how to refer homeless patients to local doctors and to social care services that can support them. Homeless-Friendly practices across the North West have already built-up great links with training providers and citizen’s advice and have even set up foodbanks on their premises.
Dr Chauhan added: “On every level, today’s initiative is a winner. If homeless people are being treated earlier, they needn’t make expensive A&E visits and indeed increase queues at our emergency departments. But even more importantly, they are receiving healthcare when they first need it, meaning they shouldn’t endure needless pain; and by visiting their local GP they are coming into contact with a community that may just be able to help them turn their lives around and escape poverty and homelessness.”
By working with the Homeless-Friendly programme, Fairfield General Hospital aims to support the work of Devolution Manchester and the commitments to homelessness by The Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership (GMHSCP), the body made up of NHS organisations, councils and others with responsibility for the city-region’s devolved £6 billion health and care budget. GMHSCP has committed to help homeless patients register with and access GP services, support the development of outreach teams offering screening, health advice and health support, develop plans that seek to ensure no patient is discharged from hospital onto the street, plus joining up the commissioning and provision of targeted specialist support services such as substance misuse.
Jon Rouse, Chief Officer at the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership said: “It’s great to hear that Fairfield General Hospital have made this pledge to be homeless friendly. We know that early intervention can make a huge difference to rough sleeper’s health but often they’re unable to access the care they need. Offering accessible treatment at Fairfield General Hospital, and signposting to housing services, GPs, dentists and other organisations, will help people get back on their feet.
“Across Greater Manchester we are working hard to ensure that every homeless person can access health services in their community and stay in the best possible health. This scheme is a great example of what can be achieved when everyone works in partnership towards this goal.”