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GP practice offers shower facilities to the homeless

A GP practice in Scunthorpe has made its shower facilities available to people sleeping rough in the town.

The Birches Medical Practice, based at the Ironstone Centre in Scunthorpe, has started to offer its shower facilities to the homeless in the town between 10am and 12pm, Monday to Friday.

The surgery is working with nearby charity the Crosby Community Association, where homeless people can go to have a hot drink and pick up new clothes to change into, before coming to the practice to have a shower.

Those accessing the scheme are also provided with shower gel, a clean towel, a comb, toothbrush and a new pair of socks to keep.

Darryl Southern, practice manager at The Birches Medical Practice, had the idea to offer the use of shower facilities after noticing that ‘over the last three years, there were more and more homeless people outside shops and supermarkets. They were neglected in terms of their care and looked unwell’.

Mr Southern said: ‘It dawned on me there were shower facilities in the building where they could have a shower and get a wash. I told the GPs at the practice about my idea and they said to go for it.’

To make his idea a reality, he ‘got the thumbs up’ from NHS Property Services to offer the shower facilities to homeless people.

Mr Southern also knew that the Crosby Community Association had a charity shop, so approached them about giving homeless people using the practice’s shower facilities a change of clothes – which they now provide.

Adam Doncaster, finance administrator for the Crosby Association, said the scheme was a ‘wonderful idea’.

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Mr Doncaster said the charity was ‘hoping that if there’s a good response to this service then other GPs and charities with shower or washing facilities will get involved and help with the gathering of clothing and sleeping bags, especially as it gets colder. Vulnerable people on the street need our support’.

News of the scheme has spread through the homeless community through word of mouth. Everyone has their own story, and background to becoming homeless, and when they visit the building ‘you begin to build trust’, Mr Southern said.

Homeless people who make use of the shower facilities and are not registered with a GP are encouraged to register at The Birches Medical Practice.

The initiative is also an opportunity to give medical advice and treat conditions, including those resulting from rough sleeping. Mr Southern explained: ‘One lad came to us with bad ulcers. He had a shower and then an appointment with a nurse to have his dressings done.’

His advice to any GP practice considering setting up a similar scheme is ‘just do it’.

‘There’s a stigma about the homeless. But just spend a minute talking to them and I promise that your opinion will change,’ he said.

Mr Southern said the scheme ‘gives people a little of their dignity back. It should be a human right to have a roof over your head and facilities to get washed and cleaned’.

He hopes more people who are homeless will hear about and use the facilities available at the practice. ‘Our door is open,’ he said.

A version of this article was first published by Pulse’s sister title Management in Practice