The HealthBus is a response to the need for accessible and appropriate healthcare for rough sleepers in Bournemouth and the surrounding areas.
Through my work as a GP I have been inspired by the bravery of many homeless people who have overcome multiple challenges to succeed in their recovery journeys. These challenges have been complicated by health problems and often compounded by dependence upon drugs and alcohol.
Over the years, people have told me how hard it is to engage with traditional health services whilst homeless. This is particularly so when sleeping rough. As a result, health problems often go unchecked until it is too late or an emergency develops, often at great cost to the individual and health services. Kevin, was one such person, who sadly died on the streets.
Shortly before he died he wrote this message for me asking that it be shared with anyone who’ll listen:
“Without the bus my condition would have been left undiagnosed. I wouldn’t have been taken to hospital. I wouldn’t have gotten treatment. This bus needs to continue as homelessness continues. The mobility of the bus also allows me and other rough sleepers to access the service ‘conveniently’ and easily, especially since my mobility isn’t very good.”
Had Kevin been able to access care earlier the outcome would have been different. In December 2016, a wonderful team of volunteers, supported by the Providence Surgery Bournemouth, set up the HealthBus to help people like Kevin. We aim to engage some of the people in our town who are the least likely to access healthcare but the most likely to need it.
During 2019, in one session each week, we had over 400 appointments attended by 170 patients, some of them coming many times. Our work has been recognised locally and nationally as pioneering and innovative. Engaging this client group with care has disproportionate benefits for the individuals concerned, for the rest of the health economy and for the general wellbeing of our area.
We work in conjunction with Providence Surgery and local providers of homeless services including the hospitals. These partnerships help people find the support they need to move on in life. So far this service has been made possible by kind donations, a generous grant from the Nationwide Building Society and winter funding for immunisations from Public Health. Ultimately our hope is that adequate healthcare, appropriate for the needs of rough sleepers, will be fully funded by the NHS . Until then, thank you to our many generous supporters for enabling the continuation of the HealthBus.
Dr. Maggie Kirk