Ambulance outreach initiative praised by Mayor of London

The work of the London Ambulance Service to reduce unnecessary 999 calls to homeless people who take shelter on buses has been praised by the Mayor of London.

The Service has been working on a project alongside London Street Rescue and other agencies, to tackle rough sleepers on Route 25, the 24-hour bendy bus between Oxford Circus and Hainault Street, Ilford.

The project was praised by the Mayor’s London Delivery Board in its Annual Progress Report as part of the work of outreach teams around the capital.

The initiative was conceived by Patient Experiences Officer Angela Riches (who works in the Service’s frequent caller unit) after identifying that staff were regularly called to the station at Hainault Street and the majority of the patients were found to be rough sleepers.

Head of Patient Experiences Gary Bassett said: “We are pleased that the Mayor of London has recognised the innovative approach we have taken to this issue and the benefits the scheme is bringing, not only in reducing the demand on our frontline service but moreover in enabling access to an appropriate care pathway for the patients concerned.”

 “The Service was receiving 200 to 300 calls a year to Hainault Street and in most cases an ambulance crew and a single responder were sent.

“Our frequent caller unit identified that a more creative solution to this issue was needed. We worked with London Street Rescue and other agencies to find the most appropriate way of dealing with rough sleepers, while keeping ambulances free to attend to our most seriously ill and injured patients.”

Paramedic Sheryl Saunders works on the Route 25 project as part of a six-month secondment.

Between 11pm and 3am Sheryl travels the route along with a worker from London Street Rescue to try and engage with homeless people.

She said: “What tends to happen is the rough sleepers get on the back of the bendy buses where the drivers can’t see them, stay on the bus to Ilford, get off and then board the bus coming the other way, stopping off at day centres along the route.”

Sheryl has been approaching the rough sleepers, taking their details and offering to help them find short-term accommodation and longer term help, such as access to benefits and help with addictions.

She added: “A lot of the shelters that were open over the Christmas period have now closed and that hasn’t helped – the extremely cold weather has also not helped these people.”

In the first few weeks alone, the project identified 38 rough sleepers along the route. Sheryl said: “We come across two, three or four every night – they are mainly men but are all ages. It’s not just a quick fix though – after we have spoken with them we try to arrange to meet them at a day centre and find them more help.”

It is hoped that once the project comes to an end the model will be used on other bus routes in London with the same problem.

Sheryl is confident the project will make a difference to people, adding: “I had no idea how many homeless people there were on the streets – it has really opened my eyes. Some have been really grateful for the help and others refuse it straight away.

“But even if we help a handful of people it’s worth it. It’s also made me realise how many charities and great organisations are out there doing fantastic work.”

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