GP’s outreach scheme helps Southend homeless

Homeless people across Southend are being given access to vital healthcare thanks to a kind-hearted GP who has taken dozens under his own wing.

Dr Haroon Siddique, from the Southend Medical Centre, teamed up with Southend Council and the homeless charity HARP to launch a new scheme just before COVID hit.

The project has opened up vaccination clinics for the homeless while also providing access to GP appointments and medicines.

Dr Siddique has been a driving force behind the scheme throughout, with most of those to sign up now having access to care at his practice.

“We basically registered them all,” he said.

“At the peak we had about 140 homeless people registered and located at B&Bs in Southend.

“While they were in the B&Bs they had been supplied with mobile phones by the council.

“We then did telephone health reviews on all of them.”

Dr Siddique added: “In total we must have talked to 80 of them. A lot of them were happy just having some contact with us knowing that we were around.

“Some needed medication. Some needed dressings sorted. Some needed referrals but we found that really successful and it was the first time we had done it.”

Dr Siddique and his team have since forged closer links with Southend Council’s housing team and with Southend Hospital’s discharge team.

The project is part of a new drive to get organisations across the city working more closely together to provide more holistic care.

Since January 2020,1 there have been 396 homeless patient interventions for a variety of medical problems including a new diagnosis of liver cancer and a total of 173 COVID vaccinations administered to the homeless.

One person who has been helped by the project is a lady called Tina.

Tina struggled with a lifetime of alcohol misuse, but HARP, alongside the NHS and social care teams, were able to support her, listen to her and give her a safe place to live.

Having taken part in gardening, cooking and other activities, Tina now feels safe to continue her rehabilitation.

She said: “I’ve been homeless for three years.

“It’s a good service and has helped me with my physical and my mental health.

“I’m pleased I’ve had access to the support and have somewhere safe and warm to live. It means I can rebuild my life and hope to be able to see my grandchildren more.”

Gary Turner, director of service operations at HARP, said: “Health and wellbeing are at the centre of all of our work supporting local people as they recover after a period of homelessness.

“Partnership working is absolutely key to achieving success for our clients, and collaborating effectively with other local agencies such as our NHS colleagues allows complementary services to work together, ultimately helping more local people like Tina to overcome homelessness and any associated health challenges.”

“We have 218 people in residential accommodation in Southend and Westcliff and we hope to expand that.”

Dr Siddique was shortlisted for a Health Service Journal award for his work and has been awarded an honorary fellowship by Pathway in London a medically-based organisation that covers homelessness across the country.

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter