How we empowered our colleagues to improve services for homeless women

Virgin Care’s Anchor Centre GP Surgery Team in Coventry, which provides services for homeless or vulnerable people, established a weekly evening women-only clinic in response to patients’ needs to ensure more vulnerable women felt safe, attended clinics, saw a female GP or nurse and meet with other teams at the centre to improve their health and wellbeing when they would not have previously sought help.

Introduction

The Anchor Centre, a Virgin Care-managed GP surgery in Coventry, provides care for patients aged sixteen and over who are homeless or vulnerable, and who may be sleeping in shop doorways, on park benches, or, in the case of one of our youngest patients, in a wheelie bin.

Sarah-EmsdenLed by lead nurse at the Anchor Centre Sarah Emsden (pictured), the team found through research of clinical data that many of their female patients were not attending clinics as often as male patients. A large number of the service’s females are victims of domestic abuse or are working girls – which saw the service receive feedback from those specific patients highlighting that they felt discomfort and unsafe waiting in a mixed area environment.

This was coupled with appointments only being made available at block times.

Virgin Care supported Sarah and her team to establish a weekly evening women-only clinic in response to patients’ needs to help increase the attendance rates of vulnerable females.

This allowed patients to have a safe place to meet, see a female GP or nurse, meet with the Recovery Partnership (alcohol and drug support service) and KAIROS (working with vulnerable women).

Our commitment to supporting the Anchor Centre’s approach ensured our most vulnerable patients’ needs of care were met and we could offer them a dignified approach.

Sarah was shortlisted for the Nurse of the Year Award at The Nursing Times Awards and also won one of our Regional Star of the Year Awards in 2015 for her work with women at the Anchor Centre.

Female patients were not attending clinics as often as men

On a daily basis, Virgin Care’s Team at the Anchor Centre are faced with patients under the influence of alcohol or drugs, unwashed, soaking wet, aggressive and depressed.

The service found that female patients had not been attending clinics as often as male patients, which we felt was a result of appointments only being available at block times meaning both men and women would wait in the same area.

Feedback to our You Said, We Did initiative – a programme where we make more than 1,400 changes to our services each year as a result of patient feedback – found that women, who were often victims of domestic abuse or are working girls, felt discomfort and unsafe waiting in a mixed environment with other men.

Couple this with the need to talk about sensitive issues, the situation becomes a very daunting one. What was required was an environment that allows them to address health issues for which they would ordinarily not seek help.

Facilitating a weekly women-only clinic

We facilitated the Anchor Centre to establish a weekly evening women-only clinic in response to patients’ needs after observing attendance rates of female patients were low and using feedback from we found the resulting problem to why they were not accessing care was because they did not feel safe.

In early 2015 the service launched the clinics to ensure vulnerable female patients have a safe place to receive the care they need. They would also only see a female GP or nurse during the clinic and this allowed them to meet with the Recovery Partnership (alcohol and drug support service) and KAIROS (working with vulnerable women) safely, and in a dignified way.

Virgin Care also helped support the service to do more. Sarah and her team have been working with a street service provided by a vulnerable women’s charity to offer health services to sex workers who would otherwise not access healthcare at all.

The team applied a holistic method to care, understanding that the work does not end when the patient leaves the surgery. The Anchor Centre works with other agencies specialising in alcohol and drug abuse, food banks, housing and safeguarding to ensure care doesn’t just stop at treating the problem the patient has presented to us.

Improving the health care of the vulnerable

By supporting the Anchor Centre Team and Lead Nurse Sarah to introduce a women-only weekly clinic we have been able to improve the health care for a number of patients when previously they would not seek help. This has allowed the service to reach the most vulnerable female patients to ensure they were not secluded from receiving the treatment’s they need.

Our team went above and beyond the duty of care, demonstrating compassion, competence, courage and commitment to ensure the care provided is as good as it can be.

Patient feedback after the introduction of the clinics found that patients felt safer. One service user said “The service helped a lot to clear my mind and put me at ease about my habits”.


Service user feedback

“Everyone listens to my problems and are very understanding.”

“The care you receive is very good. Doctor and nurses are easy to talk to.”

“Friendly, caring, loving, thoughtful and helpful.”


Lead Nurse Sarah and her team are ambassadors for promoting patient dignity, ensuring an ethos of empathy and benevolence throughout the service and her staff. Sarah has also shared her best practice at the Sex Workers Forum, Multi-disciplinary Safeguarding meetings and the Drug and Alcohol Management Group.

Sarah was also shortlisted for the Nurse of the Year Award at The Nursing Times Awards and also won one of our Regional Star of the Year Awards in 2015 for her work with women at the Anchor Centre.

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