One of the best things about Tower Hamlets is its rich and diverse population. However, this diversity can throw up some serious challenges when faced with the difficulties of protecting all citizens from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the pandemic began, the GP Care Group has been working to protect the local population and to keep everyone safe. One of our most successful projects has seen a group of four colleagues vaccinate close to 5,000 Tower Hamlets residents who either live in Care Homes, are known to have either challenging behaviours or learning disabilities. The team also works with the homeless, individuals who live in hostels, and other vulnerable environments.
The COVID-19 Home Visiting team consists of four colleagues, whose regular roles usually see them supporting the GP Care Group-run Urgent Treatment Centre, in Royal London Hospital. Ensuring they do their bit to vaccinate as many people as possible is the present priority, however, the Home Visiting team has been in operation since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
Sharing insights and details about their important work is team lead, Adriana Horn, who's full of praise and support for her small team. "Our team is fantastic! They are very flexible to the needs of our residents and their circumstances."
Alongside Adriana, the team is made up of an advanced nurse practitioner and two support officers. Initially, the team was joined by a GP to visit Care Homes, but this is no longer needed as they have streamlined their processes and are now experienced in their tasks.
Initially, the remit of the team focused on helping to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. They did this by carrying out COVID-19 tests for all the patients and staff within the borough's 68 Care Homes and non-residential care facilities, as well as asylum seekers, the homeless, and people in the Salvation Army; pretty much all those residents who require social housing. The list also includes people who are home-bound and vulnerable people. But since the very first COVID-19 vaccines became available on 16 December 2020, they have also been administering COVID-19 vaccination jabs to these vulnerable groups too, so the team is now a familiar sight in these settings. Adriana: "We often go into these settings several times. So, it's not just once and that's it. Some of these settings we have been in up to four times."
"For example, we ventured out and did our first vaccines for residents back in December and we have been back several times, as they need us. We also must comply with the timeframe the government has set for administering the first and the second vaccines."
This familiarity with the people they visit is very important as the team must gain their trust and build a rapport with them. "In the beginning, people were very skeptical about taking the vaccine, but when they see their fellow staff and their fellow care home residents take up the offer, then they are more ready to come forward and have it too. They even ask us if we have had the jab, which we all have."
The team adopts a flexible approach to ensuring they are able to meet their clients at the point that they find them, so they adapt to the sometimes unpredictable lifestyles of the people they see.
Due to the sensitive and complex natures of their clients, having the right temperament for the role is key. "It's important that members of the team have a certain personality and adopt a flexible approach with the people we see as they will not respond to rigid rules. You also need a good sense of humour."
"We have learned that we need to go to them when it's suitable for them. There is no judgment as to their lifestyles and what they may have been doing. We are happy to go to them first thing in the morning when they may have finished working to vaccinate them or it could be in the afternoon and in the evening when they are more likely to engage with us quite frankly." The repercussion of not working in this way could see the clients decide they no longer want the vaccine. "We need to be there when they say they will have the vaccine otherwise by tomorrow, they may have changed their mind."
Having done this work for several months, the team has developed an efficient process for delivering the vaccination to big groups. "Sometimes we go out in pairs or we all go out together depending on how many people we will be seeing. For example, tomorrow all four of us are going out together because we're expecting a group of 160 people to come through to be vaccinated in only four hours. So, we do need to be organised."
The team finds themselves in all types of locations and settings. They have supported at recent vaccination popup clinics at Granby Hall, [which is a community centre frequented by members of the Somali community] and popup clinics at the East London Mosque.
They also work closely with the Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group who have links with and contract extra care facilities like Look Ahead, the Salvation Army as well as organisations that support hard to reach people. "Generally, the CCG gives these organisations our contact details and they approach us."
The trust and empathy that the team has built within the community has brought an unexpected bonus with many clients within the care homes and the rough sleepers keen to be educated about how to keep safe and the importance of being vaccinated.
"After they've had the vaccine, quite a few of our clients have said they are so glad that they had it and that they will come back for their second dose. Often, they want to mark the occasion by having a picture of them getting the vaccine."
David Robertson, Chief Operating Officer at the GP Care Group, noted the remarkable contribution that the COVID-19 Home Monitoring Service has made toward helping the most vulnerable in Tower Hamlets receive vaccination and care.
He said: "This pandemic has brought out true heroes and stars within the health and care workforce and every day in the media we hear about the selflessness of healthcare staff. The wonderful work of the Tower Hamlets COVID-19 Home Visiting team is right up there with the best of them."