© Louis Dowse/MSF
MSF staff don personal protective equipment at the London COVID CARE Centre
10 Jun 20 11 Jun 20

MSF support to UCLH Covid Care Centre for the homeless has concluded due to significant decrease in patient numbers

In April, 11 MSF staff joined the University College London Hospital (UCLH) Find and Treat team in establishing the UK’s only Covid care facility for people experiencing homelessness.

The project provided rapid testing, accommodation for self-isolation and medical care for members of the London homeless community with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.  

MSF brought expertise on outbreak and emergency response, helping the facility to be opened rapidly and safely with nursing and logistical support.

At the time of opening, people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 had already been identified in several homeless hotels across London and were transferred to the facility for care.

As surveillance in the hotels, other accommodation, and in hospitals continued, people experiencing homelessness with symptoms of COVID-19 were identified and transferred to the Covid Care Centre for testing, isolation, and nursing support. 

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Find & Treat

As patient numbers in the Covid Care Centre began to decrease, MSF nurses joined UCLH’s Find & Treat teams on their screening programmes.  Initially, this was to screen for COVID-19 in homeless accommodation across London, as well as joining the street teams who engage with those still rough sleeping.

The screening aimed to identify patients and detect any clusters of cases that may be occurring in this vulnerable population. To date, over 1,300 people experiencing homelessness have been tested for COVID-19 through this approach.

In late May, as the number of positive COVID-19 cases reduced, the Find & Treat teams evolved their screenings to include blood-borne viruses including HIV, hepatitis C, as well as syphilis. These are diseases that people experiencing homelessness are at risk of.

With large numbers of this vulnerable community staying in hotels, it was an opportunity for medical teams to try and engage them within the health system.  

MSF staff joined the Find & Treat teams to undertake this screening, with 600 people being fully screened over a two-week period. It is hoped that these screenings will help health services better engage with homeless populations in the longer term. 

Ready to provide support

Following this screening period, MSF has now concluded its involvement with the project and members of our nursing team have joined the UCLH team for the coming weeks as the project winds down due to consistently low numbers – in line with the decrease in cases we are seeing across the UK.

This project represented the first time since MSF was founded in 1971 that we were providing medical assistance in the UK.

We intended this to be a short-term project in the UK and now the NHS has more capacity to cope, it is the right time to withdraw our staffing support and continue to focus our work in regions of the world most affected by medical and humanitarian crises.

We remain ready to rapidly increase our support again should the situation deteriorate in the future and we identify critical gaps in the UK response to COVID-19.

more on MSF and covid-19 >