Work that has improved the health and wellbeing of Somerset’s homeless population has been named as a runner up in the finals of the Royal Society for Public Health’s prestigious Health & Wellbeing Awards 2022 in the ‘Health Equity’ category.
Somerset was shortlisted for its work protecting the county’s homeless population.
The award ceremony took place last night (20 October) and was hosted by RSPH President, Professor Lord Patel of Bradford OBE, and RSPH Vice President broadcaster, Natasha Kaplinsky.
By working together, organisations across Somerset, including the County Council, all District Councils, the NHS, Second Step, voluntary, community, and social enterprise accommodation and support providers, the police, probation service and Somerset Open Mental Health, have been able to prevent covid deaths among the county’s homeless population, deliver lifesaving medications, and provide tests and treatments for blood borne diseases.
These colleagues have been working much more closely on this issue since 2019 and together have set up both the Somerset Homelessness Reduction Board and the NHS led Homeless and Rough Sleeper Nursing service.
Together, these organisations carried out work to support not only the immediate and longer-term housing needs of Somerset’s homeless population, but also their health and wellbeing needs, helping people with mental health problems, substance dependence and physical health needs such as the need for testing and life-saving medicines.
During the pandemic the wider health and housing teams worked to deal with a range of health protection issues by supporting homeless people into safe accommodation, vaccinating against Covid-19 and providing screening and treatment for blood borne diseases including Hepatitis C (HCV).
Cllr Adam Dance, Lead Member for Public Health, Equalities and Diversity said:
“I am so proud of the inspiring work that the team has done around homelessness health and wellbeing in Somerset. Homeless people are challenging for support services to reach, so this work is an excellent example of the value that working together can bring when tackling complicated issues such as health inequalities within our communities. In Somerset we recognise that homelessness is not merely a housing issue – it’s also a health and wellbeing concern. I want to say a huge congratulations to everyone involved for being shortlisted.”
Cllr Fran Smith, Executive member for Housing, Somerset West and Taunton Council added:
“The Pandemic taught us many things, and this included the importance of collaborative working to support the most vulnerable. The success of this collaboration, at homeless and rough sleeper accommodation across Somerset West and Taunton, enabled us to avoid any Covid deaths. In addition, it enabled us to provide wrap-around support that resulted in a significant increase in the number of people who we were able to move on from crisis to settled accommodation. The homeless and rough sleeping nursing service played a significant role in this, addressing and supporting health concerns in a timely manner, with the support of related health, care, and housing services. We are delighted that this pilot work has now been rolled out across the county.
“The Somerset Homelessness Reduction Board continues to fly the flag for collaborative working. There is still much to do. The nursing service will continue to feature as a key component of integrated service delivery.”
Karen George, clinical lead for Somerset NHS Foundation Trust’s homelessness team, said:
“We were thrilled to have been shortlisted for this Royal Society of Public Health award and the feedback that we’ve received from the other organisations we work alongside has been outstanding – they’ve told us that our team is joining up the gaps where nursing care wasn’t previously being provided.
“With the current cost of living crisis, the number of homeless people and those at risk of becoming homeless is sadly increasing, which means our team caseload is continuing to grow.
“Many people we support won’t necessarily come into healthcare settings regularly, but we will see them whenever and wherever they need us – such as on the street, in hostels or even in a field.
“We aim to make every contact count, we also arrange drop-in sessions at hostels, YMCAs and other locations in the community. Building trust with this group of people has enabled us to help reduce the demand on our emergency departments and minor injuries units, as well as GP practices. Our team also supports with attendance to appointments, as well as onward referrals to relevant specialities.
“There has been a lot of interest from other areas in the country too and I have met, both in person and online, with other services who are keen to learn from our experiences – this is something I’m proud of.”