An interview with Helen Lincoln, who is the Wellbeing Centre Manager for Bevan Healthcare, which is a social enterprise GP practice that provides health and social care to homeless people.
“There’s the medical side of Bevan, and there’s the social side of Bevan.”
What does Bevan Health offer?
There’s the medical side of Bevan, a GP service with about four and a half thousand patients, and there’s the social side of Bevan, which looks at providing social solutions to people are more than just medical patients. It became apparent that people were visiting GPs for problems that stem from social issues, such as being unable to sleep because they were sharing a one bedroom flat with 12 people. So we put a programme together to look at people’s overall well-being.
So what does the programme involve?
Well, it includes all sorts. We have a ‘Bumps and Babies’ group for women who are experiencing maternity services in the UK for the first time, we do an English as a second language class, and a homework club for refugee and asylum seeking children which is just magic, literally magic. We also have something called ‘Living with a Long Term Condition’ to help people come to terms with how they’re going to live with their condition. And we have Hidden Voices come in on a Wednesday and offer sessions like a ‘Cook and Eat’. A really wide-ranging programme. We also have a qualified adviser who comes in to offer support with benefits, immigration, housing, that kind of advice. That’s the only thing that is just for Bevan patients because we have to pay quite significantly for that, but other practices can pay for their patients to access it at their practice as well.
“Street Medicine means we go to the people rather than them having to come to us.”
And what about the Bevan Health bus that goes out?
So that comes from the medical side of Bevan, and is called Street Medicine. We go to the people rather than them having to come to us. We park up in the car park of some of the shelters and people will be able to access medical advice. We also go to areas where people go to sleep rough, so it’s almost first aid on the street. If needed we’ll also tell people to get to a hospital, and we always try and encourage people to register here as well. We’re a regular GP service, just with a specific focus.
So would you say it’s beneficial to have both the Wellbeing Centre and the GP services connected?
Oh absolutely, yes, the success of one relies on the success of the other. We’re treating people holistically, which moving forward is massive in terms of people’s well-being medically and emotionally. And we can’t ignore the financial implications. If we solve an issue in the Well-being Centre they might not need to go back to the GP, and that saves the whole system money. It’s far cheaper to run this and, at the end of the day, it’s more appropriate.
“It’s far cheaper to run this and, at the end of the day, it’s more appropriate.”
Have you noticed any increase in the use of the services since you’ve been in the role?
Yes, week on week. I would hope it’s to do with the fact that we’ve just opened and word is getting round, but I think also people are, with the decommissioning of local services, going to have to turn to us because other services may become less available. We’re popping up as things are disappearing, so at the moment we’re operating a little bit under the radar deliberately because the building only really opened in July. We’re just getting to grips with it and making sure the timetable is working properly. Then we can work towards saying “we’re here!”.
And has there been any change in the demographic with the increase in homelessness?
A lot of our patients come on the home office programmes and are allocated a support worker from Horton Housing, who fortunately we share a building with, so they bring them to us to get registered. But we absolutely have seen an increase in the number of rough sleepers seeking our service, and often Hidden Voices and Simon on the Streets (who are commissioned by us) will direct them to us. We really have to work differently with that client, because their lives are so not their own – they have so little control, so we have to firstly focus on getting getting them a doctor and then slowly, slowly introduce them to our activities like “Tea and Toast” and the rest of our Hidden Voices programme. They might want to stay immediately, or it might take twelve months before they decide they want to stay for the day. We’ve just got to do whatever we can to find people and get them through the door.
“We’re popping up as things are disappearing due to the decommissioning of local services.”
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
It sounds a cliche but it’s making a difference, even with small things. There’s a man who volunteers with us and has been seeking asylum for two years, and he can’t cook. He’s been living off bread and soft cheese because he just doesn’t know how to begin, all the food looks so different to food in his home country. So he’s gone on the “Cook and Eat” course, and he’s now doing jacket potatoes and pasta with sauce. It’s not perfect, but it’s so much better. He’s also engaging with and getting to know people. One could argue that anything we put on here is relevant if it gets people out. They may not need to learn to cook, but if it gets them meeting other people and they get a decent meal, then happy days.
“We’re treating people holistically, which moving forward is massive in terms of people’s well-being medically, emotionally, and generally overall.”
More information about Bevan Healthcare can be found at http://www.bevanhealthcare.co.uk/index.php/en/