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Pilot programme uses digital technology to improve access to healthcare for the homeless


By Allie Anderson
1 February 2019

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Homeless people in East Sussex are being supported to improve their health and access medical treatment, thanks to digital technology.

Outreach workers have helped 122 rough sleepers and people who are insecurely housed in Hastings to access health information, and see a healthcare professional when required, using digital devices and online support.

The digital inclusion project equipped an outreach team with tablets when they went out into the community to engage with homeless people and ask them about their health.

They were able to use the devices to look up and record any symptoms, conditions or injuries that were of immediate concern, and either seek advice from St John Ambulance or signpost people to health services like A&E.

Healthcare Leader recently reported on the findings of a BMA investigation, which revealedthat there has been a threefold increase in the number of homeless patients who go to A&E between 2011 and 2018.

The Government recently pledged £30m to support the health needs of the homeless, as part of the long term plan, published on 7 January.

The Hastings project was launched in partnership with NHS England, Hastings non-profit organisation Seaview, which provides support for marginalised people; social inclusion charity Good Things Foundation; and NHS Digital as part of its Widening Digital Participation programme.

As part of the initiative, a digital health hub was set up in a local open-access wellbeing centre run by Seaview.

Outreach workers signposted homeless people to the centre, where they could use onsite computers and access online tools and resources, with the help of staff and a digital health lead.

For example, staff could sit down with a service user to discuss individual health concerns, which could include questions about the medication they take or how to prevent diabetes in an at-risk person.

In some cases, homeless people were supported to register with a GP practice. They were then able to sign up to and use the GP online services at Seaview on an ongoing basis.

Chief officer at Seaview Annie Whelan said: ‘The digitisation of health and care is inevitable, and it could either result in further exclusion for our client group or greater sensitivity and understanding.

‘Having the resource and backing to trial real support ideas in practice has helped us to work on achieving greater accessibility and to break down barriers.

‘Working with Good Things Foundation as a partner has been wonderfully empowering as they have very much been concerned about improving the experience and digital health journeys of those that are homeless or rough sleeping.’

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