A pioneering Newcastle Covid-19 testing pilot, believed to be the first in the country to specifically support the homeless community, has reached almost 200 people across the city.
The initiative – which has played a pivotal role in instigating behaviour change – aims to make testing routinely available to people who otherwise may not have been accessed it.
The Integrated Covid Hub North East, hosted by Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is at the centre of managing the virus in the region.
The hub’s co-ordination and response team designed the self-test support pilot, which uses one to one encouragement to help individuals take a test whilst being verbally guided by a trained person. Users are then assisted to record their result by smartphone or via 119.
The idea is that, in time, this will give people confidence and a routine to test themselves independently, helping to break the chain of transmission.
The project worked with homeless charities and supported housing providers including the Home Group, Changing Lives, DePaul, and Newcastle City Council and provided tailored support for who are experiencing homelessness, or coming out of homelessness.
‘Support to test’ is now a permanent model in Home Group and customers routinely test twice a week with staff and are encouraged to request tests.
An interim project report has show that 65% of those who participated had never tested before and would never have tested.
Building on the pilot, the Covid hub team has also worked with Newcastle City Council to provide access to testing for individuals supported by Tyne Housing, across 21 different sites.
James Fildes, support officer at the co-ordination and response centre who founded the project, said: “We are really delighted with the initial findings of the pilot, which has helped to normalise testing for many hard to reach people who may otherwise not have been tested.
“We provided training to support charity and community workers in using lateral flow tests across four sites in Newcastle.
“The aim is to make regular testing a normal and easy thing to do, to reduce onward transmission and ensure individuals received suitable support and care should they need it.”
He added: “Initial feedback for the pilot has showed that people have tested as they are in an environment where they feel safe and secure and assistance is on hand from people that they know and are there to help them with any other problems.
Fintan Kealy, senior client services manager at Home Group, said: “We are carrying on with the testing and we have the tests on site. There is no reason to stop. It has normalised testing for staff and customers – it has become part of what is normal.
“The most powerful influence for our customers is their peers and friends, associates and families who they know and trust.
“If we are able to influence a few customers that come through our services and make testing normal for them, then one can only hope that the message will be passed on.”
Liam Smith, 24 lives in supported accommodation and says it’s a great idea.
“It’s fantastic because I have seen everyone living in here is likely to come down and do it every Tuesday and Friday rather than going out and doing it, because there’s quite a few people who would rather not go out and do it. It’s just down stairs and you don’t have to go anywhere. It’s a lot easier for everyone involved.”
People experiencing homelessness are particularly at risk during the Covid-19 pandemic and most countries across Europe have faced challenges ensuring adequate levels of testing for their homeless populations, according to the World Health Organisation.
This community is medically high-risk and frequently has poorer physical and mental health than the general population.
During the Covid-19 outbreak, the World Healthcare Organisation set out the measures required to protect people experiencing homelessness, the first being targeted, pro-active outreach and testing to meet existing health needs as well as Covid-19 specific testing.
The pilot supports the Government’s ongoing drive to increase the availability of testing and help stop the spread of Covid-19. Around one in three people infected with Covid-19 have no symptoms, so could be spreading the disease without knowing it.
Lateral flow tests can return results within 30 minutes. This rapid turnaround can either provide reassurance that a person is not carrying the virus or alternatively enable them to isolate immediately if they get a positive result.
A full evaluation is expected later this year.