Homeless and Rough Sleeper Nursing Service nominated for prestigious NHS award

Thursday 22 June 2023

Somerset’s homeless and Rough Sleeper Nursing Service and Salaried Inclusion Health GPs has been shortlisted as the regional finalist in the Health Equalities category of the NHS Parliamentary Awards, having been nominated by Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow. The winner of the award will be announced at an event on 5 July in Westminster to coincide with the NHS 75th birthday celebrations.

In Somerset, there are hundreds of people affected by homelessness or rough sleeping. While this number is relatively small in comparison to other groups of patients, they are some of the most vulnerable in our county, with complex and vast health needs.

People who are homeless or vulnerably housed face huge barriers to accessing healthcare and experience some of the most severe health inequalities, reporting much poorer health than the general population. Drug and alcohol difficulties are common amongst the homeless population they are also more likely to struggle with their mental health and have experienced significant trauma in their lives.

Since 2021, the NHS in Somerset, working in partnership with colleagues in Public Health, VCSE sector and local government, have successfully developed an approach to meeting the health needs of some of the most vulnerable adults in our communities.

This has included introducing a countywide homeless and rough sleeper nursing service and funding two inclusion health GPs (located in Taunton and Yeovil) with additional short term funded GP in the Mendip area.

With well over 70yrs professional practice between them Specialist GPs Lisa and Laura together with Karen and her NHS team of 13 Physical and Mental Health Nurses, Health Link Workers, and Peer Support Workers, are the vanguard of “Homelessness Health in Somerset.  This proactive approach has allowed them to provide an exceptional health and wellbeing offer for this incredibly vulnerable cohort of adults in Somerset, reducing demand on services elsewhere within the NHS.

Bernice Cooke, Deputy Director Nursing and Inclusion from NHS Somerset said, “As an Integrated Care System we need to shift our focus from simply treating ill health to focus on prevention, early intervention and treatment.”

“We know that there are communities of people across Somerset which are disproportionally disadvantaged. Health inequalities impact a wide range of people, but it is important that we work together to understand how we can combat these inequalities and seek to support those who may struggle to access healthcare through the traditional routes.”

Clinical lead for the homeless and rough sleepers service, Karen George said: “Whether it’s a park bench in Taunton, a field in Wincanton, or one of the hostels in Yeovil, we will deliver care to those who need it, wherever we can,”

“There are hundreds of people in Somerset who are in difficult situations, and it’s important to remember that it’s not just people who are homeless that struggle. There are people living in hostels or sofa surfing, gypsies, travellers, and those who have just been released from prison who may also struggle to access healthcare.”

“Our goal as a team is to join up the gaps, by working closely together with our partners across Somerset. We link in with our colleagues at Avon and Somerset Police, with charities such as the Somerset Drug and Alcohol Service (SDAS), and with other healthcare services including the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust. We also want to create a ‘no wrong door’ approach within our own organisation.”

Councillor Adam Dance, Lead Member for Public Health, Equalities and Diversity at Somerset Council said: “It is an incredible achievement to have been shortlisted for this award.  Working in this joined-up way across the system is so important when it comes to working with inclusion health groups and through the homeless and rough sleeper nursing service, we have been able to deliver an exceptional health and wellbeing offer for this incredibly vulnerable cohort of adults in Somerset.  Everyone involved should be incredibly proud, as I am.”