© Louis Dowse/MSF

United Kingdom

MSF is providing medical assistance in the UK for the first time since its founding in 1971

We are providing medical care to some of the most vulnerable in the UK

An MSF team is providing nursing and logistics support at the London COVID CARE Centre, in partnership with the University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) Find & Treat team.

The project provides rapid testing, accommodation in which to self-isolate, and medical care for members of the homeless community with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.  

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It is estimated that 41 percent of homeless people are now considered at high risk of COVID-19 – primarily due to high levels of chronic illness.

“This global emergency is touching each and every one of us, our families, our friends and our communities,” says Vickie Hawkins, executive director of MSF UK.

“We couldn’t stand on the side-lines in the UK and watch this from a distance when we have decades of experience in working during outbreaks.  

“We have always worked to protect the most vulnerable communities in the world. Here in the UK, the homeless community are among the most marginalised and are more likely to be at risk because of pre-existing health conditions. Without dedicated care and support, they are extremely vulnerable to this virus.” 

MSF's UK COVID-19 response

Why is MSF supporting the homeless community?  

It is in MSF’s nature to seek to support the most vulnerable in the greatest need.  

People who are living on the street or in hostels with shared facilities and sometimes even shared rooms will not be able to follow government guidelines on social distancing.

This means that when people in this community begin to show symptoms of the virus, they are not going to be able to self-isolate, leading to a very high likelihood of outbreaks with potentially tragic consequences.  

How is MSF supporting the homeless community in the UK?

The team monitors and manages residents’ medical needs and, if necessary, refers them to hospital for further treatment. They also coordinate links to local GPs, as well as mental health and drug and alcohol services. The centre opened on 11 April and has the capacity to host 60 residents.

High specification accommodation will ensure that all residents have their own rooms and bathrooms, which is essential to prevent outbreaks among the homeless community.     

Wellbeing is a high priority in the care provided. Whether supporting access to wellbeing apps, sourcing books to read, thinking about the food and drink provided or staff checking in with clients for a safe, physically distanced chat.   

Why did MSF decide to work in the UK?

All our responses across the world are based on an objective assessment of needs and our ability to respond. In the UK, our teams have identified medical needs where MSF’s expertise could be of value and we are responding accordingly. 

While it is very unusual for MSF to launch big activities in high-income countries, it is entirely normal for MSF to provide life-saving emergency humanitarian support where it is needed.

With the pandemic preventing some of our staff from travelling outside of their home countries, it is sensible for those experienced people to deploy their skills to save lives during a genuine crisis situation in the country they reside.

We are doing all we can to find ways to enable our staff to travel around the world to help in other locations too, but this is proving extremely challenging at this moment for many countries.  

So, with the resources we have, we are trying to make the best possible decisions about how to use our capacity to be as helpful as possible.

This will be different in different locations, partly because of varying levels of need for COVID-19 assistance and partly because of where we can send people and supplies.

To be clear, our response in the UK is not at the expense of our work elsewhere. 


MSF's global COVID-19 response

read more: COVID-19 hub >

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