Healthcare teams offering vital support and vaccinations to Afghan refugees
Hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers across Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG) are being given access to healthcare and vaccinations, thanks to teams from Sirona care & health.
Since Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, was taken over by the Taliban in August 2021, millions of refugees have been fleeing war and persecution. Teams from Sirona have been working with Bristol City, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire councils’ resettlement programmes and Afghan Hope Language Services to help refugees from the country who arrive in the area.
Anne Gachango is the Service Lead for The Haven – a dedicated healthcare service for refugees and asylum seekers – run by Sirona care & health. She said: “Some people have left literally everything behind. We see children who only have the clothes they are wearing.
“The local authorities in each area let us know when a family is coming. We then get in touch to help them register with a GP and offer them an appointment to find out about their medical history, including current physical and mental health problems.
“We do a comprehensive assessment with blood tests and we screen for illnesses such as hepatitis and HIV. We also update people’s vaccines and tell them how the NHS works, because they come from a country with a very different health system.
“A lot of people have psychological problems. Some had high profile jobs, but after the fall of Kabul, they had to leave because they were not safe there. They’ve left everything behind, so they might be dealing with the loss of their jobs and homes and worrying about the safety of their loved ones. A lot of people have post-traumatic stress disorder as they are fleeing war and persecution.
“Many can’t read or write in English, so there’s a language barrier, and they have to start from scratch. We signpost people to different refugee support services to make sure they are getting what they need.”
The Haven supports all asylum seekers and refugees across BNSSG and this involves visits to different venues which house them. The team collaborates with a variety of organisations, the BNSSG Covid Vaccination Programme and voluntary support groups to enable refugees to receive the health and social care they need.
Some of the services which work collaboratively with The Haven team include British Red Cross, Borderlands, Bristol Refugee Rights, Mind, VitaMinds, HOPE Traumatic Stress Service and the local authorities in BNSSG.
Sessions are offered welcoming refugees to the UK – these cover different topics including English language, education and employability. The Department for Work and Pensions supports refugees to apply for housing and benefits and Afghan Hope Language Services provide translation and advocacy services.
The BNSSG Covid Vaccination Programme Outreach Team also attends the drop-ins to offer Covid-19 vaccinations and Cadbury Heath Pharmacy provides flu vaccines for adults.
The Outreach Team was set up during the height of the pandemic to take the Covid-19 vaccine into marginalised communities to make healthcare more accessible.
Jane Deacon, an immunisation nurse with the Outreach Team, said: “We hold weekly Covid vaccination clinics across BNSSG and we also vaccinate refugees and asylum seekers at multiple sites.
“We are vaccinating people who wouldn’t have had the vaccine if we hadn’t taken it to them. We’ve been to mosques and other religious venues, family centres, homeless hostels, job centres and even to Primark at the height of the pandemic.”
The Outreach Team has been recognised for their work with a HSJ Patient Safety Award for Improving Health Outcomes for Minority Ethnic Communities. They were presented with the award for their insight-driven approach to maximising Covid-19 vaccine uptake among minority ethnic and non-English speaking communities.
Mary Lewis, Sirona’s Director of Nursing, said: “The Haven and the Outreach Team do fantastic work helping refugees to access healthcare and vaccinations when they arrive in the area.
Our Outreach Team also plays a vital role in helping people from different groups and minority ethnic communities to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
“We are hugely proud of the work they are doing with our system partners and organisations across BNSSG to ensure everyone has access to healthcare.”
Dr Geeta Iyer, Clinical Lead for the BNSSG Vaccination Programme, said: “I’m really proud of the work that has been done locally to ensure that as many people as possible have access to healthcare support, as well as life-saving vaccinations.
“We can only imagine the difficult circumstances in which many people will have left their homes, so need to make sure we do everything we can to support them into our communities.”