Bury has become the first borough in Britain to guarantee that homeless people will receive the often urgent medical attention they require.
Rough sleepers, sofa-surfers and others without a permanent home have told successive surveys that they have been denied healthcare at surgeries because they cannot produce a permanent address. This has led to some suffering in silence or receiving expensive attention at A&E.
But, thanks to a new initiative launched by Homeless-Friendly and Bury Council, homeless people will be given a card advertising a number for BARDOC. The out-of-hours service will be able to find them appropriate treatment 24/7, and also signpost the homeless to organisations that can help them with housing, training and even curbing addiction.
The initiative was inspired by Councillor Andrea Simpson, deputy leader of Bury Council, who as a medical practice manager experienced first-hand the challenges homeless people faced accessing medical help. Cllr Simpson linked up with Homeless Friendly founder, Dr Zahid Chauhan, to seek a solution.
“The deep-rooted nature of homelessness means there are no quick and easy solutions, and it’s a myth that people need a permanent address to access medical help, but a dangerous myth as people believe it.” Said Cllr Simpson. “We need to make it easier for these vulnerable people in our society to get the help they require when they need it.
“By launching this new card scheme, we are taking positive steps forward to address one of the issues homeless people face, which is receiving medical. Tackling homelessness is high on the Mayor of Manchester’s agenda and we hope that, by being the first local authority to back such a scheme, others will follow not just across Greater Manchester but nationally too.”
Homeless-Friendly founder and national health campaigner Dr Zahid Chauhan worked alongside Cllr Simpson to develop this new initiative.
He said: “The average life expectancy of a rough sleeper is just 47 years of age and they face some desperate health issues from malnutrition to frostbite, infections and shocking dental health.
“Those at risk of homelessness and living in poor accommodation also endure higher levels of stress and COPD caused by damp. They are the people in our society who need health and social care provision the most – and yet it has, on occasion, let them down. What they need is a collaborative approach like we are launching here in Bury to send out a powerful message that their community cares.”
The new Bury programme was launched at Moorgate Primary Healthcare Centre in Derby Way, Bury. Attended by local politicians,health chiefs, and homeless “service users”, the programme is the first in the UK to have the full support of a local authority. Bury Council is not only giving the initiative financial support, but is lending its considerable expertise on social care to the cause.
Karen Young, head of social inclusion at Bury Council, said: “This card scheme is born from our excellent partnership working in Bury – pooling together our expertise to help the most vulnerable people within our communities. The challenge now is to ensure that homeless people realise this help is there for them, and to reach every single one of them with this card so they can receive medical help when they need it.”
Homeless-Friendly was set-up by Dr Chauhan after he accompanied BARDOC on out-of-hours calls and saw for himself the very real health needs facing the homeless. BARDOC operates a nationally celebrated vulnerable patients scheme which gives blankets, water and other essentials to particularly needy patients. This experience, allied to the fact it serves 187,000 patients in Bury, makes it the perfect choice to dispense medical advice to the homeless.
Vicky Riding, chief executive of BARDOC, added: “We were one of the first healthcare providers in the country to pledge to become Homeless-Friendly and have encouraged other out-of-hours providers and surgeries in the North West to join. We are immensely proud to serve the people of Bury and are delighted that, with Bury Council’s support, the borough is becoming a true trailblazer in helping the homeless with their health and social care needs.”
To learn more about the Homeless-Friendly programme and pledge to make your services accessible to those with no fixed abode, telephone 07463 794 056 or go to www.homelessfriendly.co.uk