23rd August 2017
In support of Health Visiting Week (#HVWeek), and with part of today’s theme being around the health of migrant and vulnerable groups, a blog by Sarah Bancroft, Health Visitor/School Nurse, and Sylvia Wilkinson, Health Visitor and Community Practice Educator, at Lincolnshire Community Health Services NHS Trust on the traveller liaison service in Lincolnshire.
In Lincoln, a traveller liaison service has been provided by a school nurse and a health visitor from Lincolnshire Community Health Services NHS Trust for many years, supporting the traveller community on a monthly basis or more frequently, e.g. CONI if required.
Partnerships during this time have been developed and links made with education via the Traveller Initiative and also with Lincolnshire County Council. Involvement with other agencies has strengthened the relationships made with the travelling community and this joined-up approach has manifested in achieving good outcomes for those families with whom we have contact.
Building trusting relationships does not just occur. It became apparent almost immediately how suspicious the occupants of the site were initially. Many of the families were suspicious of our intention, but, over time, trusting relationships have developed. Most of the families with children had heard of health visitors and their experiences had largely proved positive. Many women sought us out to have their babies weighed or to seek advice. As we consistently visit the site, they approach us and want us to come into their caravans.
The site visited is occupied by mainly Irish traveller families. Irish travellers are a small indigenous minority group who have been part of Irish society for centuries. The continuity we have provided has proved beneficial. We feel we have achieved this by gradually getting to know people (indeed travellers return to the site and we know them from previously). If asked, many residents would not know us by name but they know that we are nurses, and alternatively we are considered knowledgeable about health.
Many visits are not exclusively involving children. Many travellers do not read or write, so it might be reading a letter, helping them contact someone by telephone or sorting out benefits. Over the years, we have also advised regarding medical care for grandfathers and indeed great-grandfathers. Often, it is advice encouraging attendance with a GP. Many travellers are registered with GPs at the other end of the country because they have difficulty registering at some practices but also because they trust the GP’s abilities. Many have had bad experiences of health professionals and healthcare, and we see this as something we want to rectify. Many times we have apologised on behalf of other health professionals’ somewhat bad attitudes.
The All Ireland Traveller Health Study (2010) focused on key aspects of traveller health, social status and service utilisation. The findings identified substantially higher levels of mortality and morbidity amongst travellers compared to the general population. Life expectancy for males was 15 years less than the general population, and 11 years for females. It is well documented that travellers as a whole do not access healthcare very freely, so to enable questions to be asked and signposting to the appropriate health services, we promote positive aspects of healthcare. We hope that, as a result, we influence travellers with whom we come into contact with to access and receive appropriate and responsive care. We have held a number of health events in conjunction with partners encouraging healthy eating, safety, first aid, roles of professionals and referrals for specific conditions, which families have found useful.