A health visitor in Surrey has been praised for her efforts in supporting the Gypsy Roma Traveller (GRT) community and homeless families during the coronavirus pandemic.
Recognising common problems shared by GRT communities and homeless families, Lisa Gavin decided to combine two teams that normally worked with these groups in order to strengthen the offer of help and care.
She highlighted how these two vulnerable groups are “more isolated than ever”, because they were unable to access services in their usual way under the Covid-19 lockdown.
“The impact of Covid-19 is that these vulnerable families are more isolated than ever”
Throughout the pandemic the newly formed joint team has worked together to share Covid-19 messages, keep both GRT and homeless families safe and help minimise their risk of spreading the disease.
The team, which is part of Surrey Heartlands Clinical Commissioning Group, has spent time working with the groups to understand the problems these vulnerable people may endure, such as poor sanitation.
For example, a lack of running water in a caravan made it difficult for a GRT family to follow the hand-washing guidance and so the team came to the traveller site equipped with buckets and advice on how to best wash hands.
In addition, Ms Gavin highlighted how GRT communities had largely seen their incomes disappear during the crisis and that some had no access to internet, which impacted how they shopped.
Some also lived in cramped conditions which also made social distancing “difficult”, added Ms Gavin.
Her team has helped by solving basic human needs, such as getting hold of nappies and baby clothes, as well as weighing babies, carrying out developmental checks, signposting to services on contraception and immunisation, and arranging antenatal appointments and scans.
Ms Gavin and her team were also faced with reports of an outbreak on a site with a vulnerable baby who needed to go to hospital. Ms Gavin worked with Public Health England to get the baby and the family tested, and in the end the whole site received a test.
“The impact of Covid-19 is that these vulnerable families are more isolated than ever as they are not able access services in the usual way,” said Ms Gavin, who is clinical lead for Surrey 0-19 inclusion health and gypsy and traveller projects at Children and Family Health Surrey.
“A large proportion of these communities survive on a cash based way of life and their incomes have disappeared overnight,” she noted.
“They don’t necessarily have access to the internet, which impacts what they can shop for, they live in cramped conditions, which makes social distancing difficult, and they suffer from low levels of literacy, which makes accessing online or offline information problematic.”
She added that she hoped her team, which includes two health visitors, two community staff nurses, two nursery nurses and another part time member of staff experienced in working with the GRT community, had “made a small contribution to keeping Surrey safer” during the pandemic.
The efforts of the team have been warmly welcomed by the communities they serve, and families are reportedly grateful for the help they have received and have been keen to follow Covid-19 advice to keep themselves and others safe.
One GRT mum of four young children said: “Thank you so much, you’re a life saver, what would have happened to us if you hadn’t come along?”