Earlier this year I spent five weeks on placement with the Health Inclusion Team (HIT) at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust in London.

I split my time working with the nurses who support people experiencing homelessness, refugees and asylum seekers and those seeking support with drug and alcohol dependency. This placement was a unique opportunity to see how nurses reach and support some of the more hidden and vulnerable groups in our society who face barriers to accessing healthcare in more traditional settings. I could easily have spent another five weeks with them, continuing to meet different patient groups and soak up the wealth of knowledge from this highly experienced nurse-led service!

During my placement I travelled all over three boroughs of London spending time with nurses running clinics at different hostels for people experiencing homelessness. I enjoyed being in different locations each day and having the opportunity to work closely with the dedicated and skilled nurses on the team, who gave me time and space to learn, take part and ask lots of questions.

I discovered how important opportunistic nursing care can be – making the most of an interaction with a patient who faces barriers to accessing healthcare because of their personal circumstances and experiences. In terms of people living with homelessness, the team takes nursing care directly to where the patients are and encourages them to access their services by being a regular, friendly face.

Once a patient has taken the first steps by coming to the clinic, the nurses take the opportunity to talk to that person and offer them other health tests and treatments which might improve their health and quality of life, like offering blood tests to check for certain diseases or deficiencies, offering vaccines and advice on sexual health. I also learnt that the nurses knew a lot about relevant services on offer in the boroughs they worked in and had built good relationships with other local primary care professionals.

It is so special to be able to offer people care and compassion alongside practical healthcare after, what is for many, an unimaginable experience trying to reach safety.

Corinna Gray

I also had the chance to spend time in a drug and alcohol clinic, learning about the complexities of coping with addiction and dependency whatever your life circumstances. Alongside offering patients support with their physical symptoms, including offering a full health assessment or supporting them through detox, it was also relevant to understand about mental health issues too. The nurse helped me to research common conditions, but best of all, I had the chance to listen to patients talk about their experiences. Patients were open with me because of the trusting relationships the nurses had built up with them over time. 

Working with the team who care for recently arrived refugees and asylum seekers was another insightful and unique opportunity. It is so special to be able to offer people care and compassion alongside practical healthcare after, what is for many, an unimaginable experience trying to reach safety. The nurses had to have very good communication skills, working with translators to make sure the patients understood all the care on offer to them. They also had to know about global health issues affecting their patients, which was very interesting to learn about and understand the relevance to a patient or specific ethnic group.

Spending my placement with the HIT team was a brilliant opportunity. I had different opportunities every day, from practicing my practical skills to learning about particular patient groups and their needs. It was also a very important reminder that life can change at any moment for anyone, and this should not affect our ability to access health care services or our right to be treated with dignity and respect.

I have come away from my experience very inspired and will be aiming to incorporate my experiences and new knowledge into my nursing practice going forward. I will certainly be considering inclusion nursing in my future career now I know it is a possibility!

Corinna Gray, Student Nurse, MSc in Adult Nursing at King’s College, London 

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