© Louis Dowse/MSF

United Kingdom

MSF provided medical assistance in the UK at the London Covid Care Centre

We provided medical care to some of the most vulnerable people in the UK

An MSF team provided 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 provided rapid testing, accommodation in which to self-isolate, and medical care for members of the homeless community with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.  

This Activity has ended, as of 8 June 2020

We have now concluded our 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. Read more.

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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 did MSF support 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 did MSF support the homeless community in the UK?

The team monitored and managed residents’ medical needs and, if necessary, referred them to hospital for further treatment. They also coordinated links to local GPs, as well as mental health and drug and alcohol services. The centre opened on 11 April and had the capacity to host 60 residents.

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

Wellbeing was 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 identified medical needs where MSF’s expertise could be of value and we responded 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 was 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 had, we tried 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 was not at the expense of our work elsewhere. 


MSF's global COVID-19 response

read more: COVID-19 hub >

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