Homeless Health Nurse Shaynie Larwood writes about her experience engaging with the Gypsy and Traveller community in Cambridgeshire during the pandemic

From a background in adult nursing, Health Visiting, education and management I became the lead nurse for the newly commissioned Gypsy & Traveller health team in 2009. I lead the team and also act as the main point of referral for health concerns for the Gypsy & Traveller Community within a Local Authority Public Health Directorate (Cambridgeshire County Council).

During these very strange times, the Traveller Health team I lead have had to very quickly develop new ways of working with our clients. We went from being an outreach service providing health and wellbeing support to clients of Gypsy Traveller ethnicity to a remote team in a matter of days.

Gypsies and Travellers are widely recognised as being one of the most disadvantaged groups in society and suffer the greatest disparity in all measurable outcomes of wellbeing, including health. As such, our team consisting of myself as the registered nurse, an adult education project officer, advocacy worker, and community development practitioner have, over the past 11 years, aimed to provide consistent support to individuals and families from this community to improve these outcomes.

The team consists of people from both Gypsy Traveller ethnicity and non-Gypsy Traveller. The lived experience element is complex, as originally the team was a partnership team with other council teams and a charity. Over time due to ongoing changes those members of the team were transferred into public health. Their role in the team is invaluable for the insight and links into the community that they give. They also confer a degree of credibility to the team both internally with our clients and externally with partner agencies.

Gypsies and Travellers are widely recognised as being one of the most disadvantaged groups in society and suffer the greatest disparity in all measurable outcomes of wellbeing, including health.

Shaynie Larwood

The support offered by the team has many facets and takes multiple forms, from supporting a family to register with a GP, adherence to treatment plans, access to tests and discharge planning. We also deliver support with accessing and managing benefit claims, accessing secure accommodation, and accessing education for both adults and children. On a strategic level, the team have played a key role in highlighting the strengths and needs within the community, particularly most recently in relation to Covd-19.

The arrival of the new virus has caused the team to redesign our service delivery. The adult education offer has been put online, with our tutors supporting learners via telephone, talking text and video calls. Other work has been completed over the phone and via post. Where contact with clients has been unavoidable, for example to exchange paperwork, this has been done with social distancing measures in place.

One of the most useful developments has been the rolling out of our Facebook page. The team already had a Facebook page but Covid-19 has caused us to make much greater use of this online community. At the start of lockdown we contacted all our existing and previous contacts asking them to join the group. We also asked that they should share it with their contacts so that they could join too. This has led to us having in excess of 1000 members. We have used the page to share public health messages, dispel myths and rumours, deliver a questionnaire and provide education resources. The page has also been used to private message the team by individuals and families seeking support from the team. One person posting in the group said we were, “good people who tell us what we (the GRT community) need to know”.

This use of social media is something we will definitely pursue in the ‘new normal’, whatever that may be.

Shaynie Larwood-Smith RGN, HVC, B.Ed hons, Practice Educator, UKPHR registered public health practitioner.





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