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A GP who is leading the NHS’ mission to reduce inequality in healthcare has praised Bradford’s services for homeless residents and vulnerable women.

Dr Bola Owolabi, NHS Director – Health Inequalities, visited the Bevan Healthcare clinic which offers evening appointments and an outreach bus in what is one of Britain’s most deprived areas.

In 2019, as part of its Long Term Plan, NHS England increased funding — estimated to be worth over £1 billion by 2023/24 — to tackle health inequalities in areas with the highest rates of early death and poor physical and mental health. Central Bradford was one of these places.

To tackle its health problems, a Reducing Inequalities in Communities (RIC) programme was created by the NHS Bradford District and Craven Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in collaboration with health and care partners such as the Bevan clinic. RIC is one of the enabler programmes for the Bradford District and Craven Health and Care Partnership, reflecting the partnership’s Act as One ethos of people and organisations working together to keep people ‘happy, healthy at home’.

The programme granted NHS funds to Bevan Healthcare and Bradford Doulas which supports pregnant women before and after the birth of their child.

Dr Owolabi, who also works as a GP in the Midlands, said: “The services I witnessed support some of the most vulnerable groups in our society and those at highest risk of healthcare inequalities.

“Bradford is a great example of what can be achieved when services are designed and delivered with patients at the heart, an approach we need to see more of across the country.”

The Bevan clinic is planning late night appointments each Thursday which are useful for homeless people, who can also be reached by an outreach bus seven days a week. It provides a ‘street doctor’ service.

The clinic bus also goes to hotels housing asylum seekers. They can sometimes be isolated and suffering in silence because they may be afraid of stigma or cannot speak English and therefore find out about how the NHS can help.

Hakki Ozal is a former service user and political asylum seeker from Turkey who now works for the clinic. He said: “Before I was an asylum seeker I had a full and active life. I’m so grateful to be able to live in the UK.

“But being an asylum seeker forces you into an ambiguous status where you are not able to do things and your rights are limited. At times it has felt like my entire identity has been taken away from me and this has had a real impact on my mental health.

“Finding the Bevan clinic, first as a patient and then a volunteer and now in a paid role, has turned my life around. Being an asylum seeker can feel a bit like an outdoor jail but I’m glad I have been given the opportunity to put that experience to good use. Now I can help others in a similar situation because I have lived experience of the issues they are facing.”

Dr Owolabi also visited a doula project, a service part-funded by the NHS which offers support to pregnant women in Bradford from ethnic minorities who might not be aware of the antenatal care on offer. The doulas, who are a trained companion, come from the same communities as the pregnant mothers and understand their needs.

Dr Sohail Abbas, deputy clinical chair and strategic clinical director of population health and wellbeing in Bradford District and Craven CCG, said: “We are thrilled that Dr Owolabi has been able to take the time to visit Bradford and see the important work we are doing on the ground as part of the RIC programme.

“There are significant inequalities across our communities and the gap in how long people live is stark. People in the most deprived areas of our district are living with more ill health and dying earlier. Covid-19 has shone a harsh spotlight on existing health inequalities, so it’s vital we continue our focus on the important work happening in the RIC programme.”

You can read Dr Sohail Abbas’ blog from the visit on the NHS England website. You can also watch clips from Dr Bola’s visit below.