NHS doctors to cycle around London and treat homeless using fold out health clinic

Doctors will cycle around London and treat homeless people using the UK’s first “fold out health clinic” attached to a tricycle.

University College London Hospital’s “Find and Treat” team is aiming to screen thousands of the most vulnerable, homeless and high-risk people in the capital each year for illnesses including tuberculosis, HIV and Covid-19.

Many homeless people are forced to seek treatment in A&E or live with debilitating illnesses for years as they are unable to access a GP due to a lack of documentation.

The scheme will see medics cycling around London’s most deprived communities and setting up a clinic that will be used to screen and treat patients. The eco-friendly tricycle, nicknamed the “Trike”, has storage space for vaccines, PCR tests and even a treatment table.

Doctors will be supported by outreach workers who will use their own experiences of homelessness and diagnosis to encourage others to use the service.

Professor Al Story, the founder and clinical lead of Find and Treat, told the Standard: “Homeless people often present late with illnesses and have missed the opportunity for treatment.

“We have a sizeable population of homeless people who are genuinely living under bridges, and this mobile clinic means we can reach them now and make a diagnosis on the spot.”

Prof Story hopes that having an initial test will encourage individuals to continue to engage with NHS services.

“A lot of our work is about making people feel that they have the right to use the NHS. Many of the people we see may have had bad experiences in the past, so don’t go back. If you haven’t had access to a shower or clean clothes and have been sleeping on the street, then sitting in a waiting room can be a difficult experience.”

Ousainou Sarr Find and Treat Outreach Worker, was diagnosed with tuberculosis by A “Find and Treat” van in 2011. He now uses his experience of homelessness and diagnosis to encourage people facing homelessness to access healthcare.

“Being diagnosed with TB saved my life. All of the signs and symptoms were there, but the stigma prevented me getting a diagnosis.

“My message to the people I see is: healthcare is coming to you, what is there to lose? It is never too late to get checked.”

The idea for the bike was originally conceived by Dr Indrajit Ghosh, a specialty doctor in bloodborne diseases at UCLH, who wanted to create a “futuristic” form of outreach healthcare. It took him five years to design the product and create a financial plan.

“This will give us more flexibility and accessibility to areas where it may have been difficult to park a car or van,” he said.

“Anyone driving it will have to get used to London traffic, but people tend to make way when they see the NHS sign.”

Figures released on Tuesday showed that the number of people estimated to be sleeping rough in England had risen for the first time since 2017. A snapshot of a single night in autumn last year found 3,069 people sleeping rough, up 626 (26 per cent) on the equivalent total for 2021 and nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) above the level in 2010 when the figures began.

The tricycle was built in Berlin and shipped to London for assembly. It features remote temperature control allowing for safe storage for vaccines, while a solar panel provides a climate-friendly charging option. Data is also submitted to the cloud in real-time.

The prototype will be monitored and learning from the project will contribute to future rollout for other teams and clinics, UCLH said.

The tricycle comes as part of UCLH’s new ‘Critical Care for our Climate’ strategy, which aims to beat national targets for carbon reduction by years.