THIS winter I was determined to make a difference to the lives of the most vulnerable people that have been deliberately excluded from our society. I believe this to be a modern tragedy in 21st century UK. The UK is ranked as the sixth wealthiest economy in the world but poverty, loneliness and homelessness are unfortunately still common.
It is likely that many of you reading this blog have heard and read about Crisis, a Homeless charity. Last year, Crisis at Christmas gave more than 4,000 homeless people warmth, comfort, companionship and access to vital services to help them leave homelessness behind for good.
I thought to myself: “why is it that I get to be home surrounded by the comforts of a warm and secure home, whilst others fight for their survival on the streets?”.
Pondering this encouraged me to search online to find ways of giving up my time to volunteer at a shelter or similar scheme, to provide practical support.
I applied to become a pharmacist volunteer at Crisis at Christmas. I chose my shift and eagerly awaited confirmation. I didn’t really know what to expect from the experience but I was certainly looking forward to it.
Crisis opened 12 different shelters up and down the country this year. At Christmas it is really an opportunity for the homeless to reassess their situation. They can use Crisis to get in touch with potentially life changing services such as a TB clinics, Alcoholics Anonymous, counselling and support for accommodation. The centres strive to give homeless people compassionate healthcare, companionship as well as hot meals, warm clothing and a bed.
My first shift Sunday 21st December had arrived. It was a really cold and frosty morning, and when I eventually arrived at the centre, I was keen to get involved, meet new people and work with like-minded people.
It was inspiring to see the enthusiasm of the volunteers and the positive energy that they were emanating.
Today was mainly about setting up the medical handbook and I was responsible for the following tasks: organising the formulary , assembling the scabies treatment pack and attaching the instruction leaflets for thiamine.
A few days passed and my second shift came on Christmas Day. For most people they would be driving home, but I was driving to a centre to give the homeless the happy Christmas that they deserved.
I was a part of the medical team. It was made up of pharmacists, doctors, nurses, podiatrists, and receptionists. Although our main centre is based in Bermondsey, we divided into smaller teams and were sent to different centres around London in Crisis vans. We sang Christmas songs on our journey, which created a real sense of camaraderie amongst the volunteers.
As we walked into The Gate Centre in Canary Wharf, l was taken aback by the number of people waiting to be served…
New figures show that in the last three years in England there has been a 34 per cent rise in the number of people left homeless. They were talking with each other and with Crisis volunteers. As we carried our equipment and supplies up to the third floor, we were delighted to see people receiving haircuts, foot care, enjoying computer games, watching films and eating mince pies.
Once we were set up, guests were able to access healthcare and advice from specialist advisors.
As we started unpacking, I arranged all the drugs in a certain way and set up a mini pharmacy in one corner with my BNF. It was made up of mainly antibiotics, analgesics and inhalers. Upon presentation, patients were supported to complete a healthcare service guest record. I was able to use my knowledge to carry out assessments with the permission from my team leader.
We used a collaborative approach to provide: primary healthcare focus; assessment/examination; symptom relief; support for self care; wound assessment and dressings; pharmacological intervention; health advice and promotion; mental state assessment; mini mental state assessment; referral to other services; and First Aid.
I was not satisfied with merely dispensing boxes and countersigning prescribed medication from doctors and nurses, because I knew I could offer a lot more. This also provided me with the opportunity to speak to the guests and talk about their personal journey.
These conversations left a deep impression on me and emphasised that every human being has the right to receive compassionate, high quality healthcare.
We, as pharmacists, must begin to look at a person’s health, wellbeing, personal and social circumstances that impact upon health.
I strongly believe we have a duty to serve the underprivileged population of our country, regardless of race, religion, creed, colour, gender or ethnicity.
Priscilla Patel is primary care pharmacist in a GP practice
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