World TB Day – peer support’s value in Find & Treat

World TB Day – peer support’s value in Find & Treat
18/03/2024 Nikki Dudley

We recently chatted to Mark, a Homeless Health Caseworker for Groundswell. Using a peer support approach, he supports people experiencing homelessness to access healthcare. This includes taking people to health appointments and advocating for them if needed.

At Groundswell, we run a homeless health advocacy service where advocates with lived experience of homelessness support people currently experiencing homelessness to attend health/ mental health appointments. We find this approach beneficial as it removes any power imbalances, discrimination and removes barriers to accessing healthcare. The advocates have empathy as they have experienced similar issues and so there is no judgement involved.

Mark, can you tell us about what you do?

For the past four years, I’ve spent two days a week working with the UCLH Find & Treat team, who visit people experiencing homelessness in London hostels and day centres. The team focus on blood-borne viruses, which include Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B and HIV, and sexually transmitted infections such as Syphilis, Gonorrhoea, Chlamydia and Trichomonas. They also treat TB, which we will focus on for World TB day on the 24th of March.

World TB Day commemorates the day that Dr Robert Koch announced the discovery of the bacteria that causes TB. Prior to that, many believed it to be an inherited disease.

What is TB?

TB is a bacterial infection that is well-known for affecting the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body. In some cases, TB can be infectious. If a person has the bacteria in their lungs and/or airways, the infection can develop to the point of becoming infectious to others.

How we treat it

TB is curable, but treatment requires a long course of antibiotics, that need to be taken every day in order for the treatment to work. Missing doses run the risk of developing resistance to the medication.

Here at Find & Treat, which is a pan-London service, finding people with TB and linking them into care is an essential part of what we do. We offer screening with mobile chest x-ray unit at hostels, day centres, asylum accommodation settings, prisons, drug & alcohol services and other venues.

The role of peer support

When someone experiencing homelessness is diagnosed with TB, we can offer them peer support. This means if they have any questions regarding treatment or if they need support getting to their appointments, a peer (someone with experience of homelessness) will be able to help guide them through their treatment journey.

We take ‘lost to follow-up’ referrals – people who have for many reasons, dropped out of care before finishing or perhaps before even starting TB treatment, and then supporting them to link back into care at their local TB clinics, where we can offer peer support i.e.: supporting them to get to the clinic.

Taking a long course of medication and remembering to take the tablets everyday can be really challenging and some people need extra support.

Symptoms of TB (from the NHS Website):

Symptoms of tuberculosis (TB) usually come on gradually.

Common symptoms include:

  • a cough that lasts more than 3 weeks – you may cough up mucus (phlegm) or mucus with blood in it
  • feeling tired or exhausted
  • a high temperature or night sweats
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • feeling generally unwell

Find out more

Find & Treat also offer blood borne virus testing and a vaccination service. If you work in a homelessness setting and you’re interested in arranging a screening, please give us a call on 020 3447 9842.

How to refer in London

If you work in a London hostel setting and would like the Find & Treat team to provide screening at your service, or if you have any questions, just email:  [email protected].

Homeless Health Peer Advocacy

Groundswell offers Homeless Health Peer Advocacy for a range of physical and mental health issues. To find out what we can offer and how to refer,
read our HHPA London page or email [email protected].

We have partners operating HHPA services in various parts of the country. If you would like to explore having a similar service in your area you can find out more on our information page.