Congratulations to our Hepatitis Outreach Team who have won a regional NHS Parliamentary Award for tackling health inequalities among the homeless.
When the outreach team found out that people from the local homeless community had been housed because of the pandemic, it acted fast, setting up pop-up clinics to screen and treat rough sleepers at risk of hepatitis C and liver damage.
Substance abuse is common among people living on the streets and puts them at high risk of getting Hepatitis C, but while they are 50 times more likely to contract the virus, only three per cent receive treatment.
Romanie Westwood, Clinical Nurse Specialist and a driving force in setting up the clinics, said: “People living on the street are at high risk of getting hepatitis C, but they’re often reluctant to seek hospital help or they’ve faced stigma when trying to get help. The idea with our pop-up clinics was to take the care to the patients instead of waiting for them to come to us.
“When the first lockdown started, we knew homeless people in our area were being housed close to Royal Surrey, so we decided to act quickly. Within a couple of weeks we had set up outdoor clinics offering screening and treatment, together with support for those who had dropped out of their rehabilitation programmes.”
Jeremy Hunt, Conservative MP for South West Surrey, nominated the team for the award. He said, “I would like to congratulate Royal Surrey Hospital’s Hepatitis Outreach team for its outstanding work setting up this potentially life-saving service for the local homeless community.
“The project has been a great success because of the team’s quick thinking and determination to make a difference. They’ve taken a difficult situation and utilised it for the benefit of a community who live with huge health inequalities.”
The team also invited two Hepatitis C Trust workers to join the clinics. The pair who had lived experience of being homeless and suffering from addiction, offered practical advice and understanding, which helped build trust and rapport with the patients.
Romanie said: “The clinics have helped us build a more robust relationship with this vulnerable group.
“I love my job because it’s all about making a difference and I think we’ve made a massive breakthrough. It’s great to see this recognised by the award judges.”
As regional champions, the Hepatitis Outreach Team will now compete with winners from across the country for the chance to win the national Parliamentary Award.