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A letter from Arch CEO Gary Bishop on the 1-year anniversary of the first UK lockdown

Read alongside our timeline of events, March 2020 – March 2021.

Dear Friends,

What a milestone to reach – one year since the first Covid-19 lockdown commenced. One year since the world turned on its head for many of us, one year since the introduction of many radical changes in the way we work and live. It may not be over yet but it’s time to exhale and say ‘Well done Brighton & Hove. Thank you.’

A year ago, none of us knew how the pandemic would affect people facing homelessness, and those living in insecure housing across Brighton and Hove. At Arch we are all too aware that, even in normal circumstances, homelessness can have a devastating impact on a person’s health. Covid-19 was a wholly unknown adversary, but we knew we had to respond to it quickly and thoroughly in order to protect people.

Our first response was to change the way our core primary care services operate, moving most consultations to the telephone and making new arrangements to enable staff to work at safe distances. We continued throughout the whole year to see patients face to face when necessary with strict protocols for PPE and infection hygiene measures. NHS guidelines were changing almost daily in the first few weeks of the pandemic and the Arch team worked tirelessly ensure the safety of our patients and staff and also protect the services we provide.

At the same time we were helping to lead the creation of what became the Care & Protect Model with Brighton & Hove City Council, and playing a key role in securing hotel accommodation for people who would otherwise not have been able to self-isolate. Working with St Mungos, Brighton Housing Trust, Public Health, The Mental Health Homeless Team and Sussex Community Foundation Trust, we were able to safely accommodate over 400 people, with our clinical team providing daily healthcare into all the accommodation. Well done Brighton & Hove. Thank you.

Beyond the Care and Protect accommodation the city was asleep. The necessary closure of many day centres and support services made day-to-day survival even more difficult and created higher levels of uncertainty and fear for many. The closure of public spaces and amenities left those without homes also without access to shelter from the elements, food sources and clean water. Of course, our city rallied to help. The city council, healthcare providers, charities, community groups, faith groups, local businesses and concerned individuals regrouped and formed task groups, working together to distribute food, medicines and vital supplies in order to enable people to stay at home and reduce the risk of infection. The compassion, innovation and sheer determination of every organisation and individual involved in these ongoing efforts is truly inspiring. Well done Brighton & Hove. Thank you.

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The measures which we were collectively able to introduce, ensured that Covid-19 infection rates were much lower than initially feared amongst people who are homeless or in insecure housing throughout the early months of the pandemic. Perhaps surprisingly, deaths from any cause were in fact lower than we usually see amongst our patients during some months of the year. We attribute this to the fact that everyone had access to secure, appropriate accommodation with relevant support available on site, nutritious food, clean water and washing facilities. For some, this was the first time they had felt safe for many years. It is no surprise that the incredible interventions which our city was able to create, had a significant impact on the number of infections and saved lives. Well done Brighton & Hove. Thank you.

Following a summer of looser restrictions and lower infection rates, cases began to rise again in the autumn, heralding in new restrictions and lockdowns. Arch continued to work behind the scenes with the council and partners to establish dedicated self-isolation and recovery facilities, to ensure that anyone facing homelessness with Covid-19 would not have to recover on the streets or in shared or unsuitable accommodation. This work led to the city’s successful bid to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) which is now funding:

  • dedicated Covid recovery accommodation;
  • a specialist A&E worker provided by Justlife;
  • 5 stepdown beds run by YMCA Downslink Group and Arch to accommodate people who are being discharged from BSUH but have nowhere suitable to stay;
  • a ‘step-away’ service which will boost the Sussex Community Foundation Trust team supporting people who are living in homeless settings across the city.

Our whole city, working together, has been swift to recognise the need to house people safely as a preventative measure for subsequent lockdowns. Because of this, many people facing homelessness were able to live safely through the winter months when they were most at risk. Well done Brighton & Hove. Thank you.

On January 15th 2021 the NHS Covid-19 vaccination site opened at Brighton Racecourse. This was, in itself, a great achievement, but it became clear from the start that our fears were justified and many people who are homeless were, for various reasons, not going to be able to access the mass vaccination sites. Concerns were raised once again about how we could reach clinically vulnerable people quickly with the vaccine. A little over 3 weeks later Arch launched a mobile vaccine service working closely with Justlife, Sussex Community Foundation Trust and St John Ambulance.

The program aims to administer 1000 first doses over an 8-week period followed by 1000 second doses. Utilising the St John Ambulance Treatment Centre, nurses are able to visit hostels, emergency accommodation and day centres on three days each week. With the support of accommodation providers we have been able to deliver over 500 vaccines at the time of writing. Take-up has been good, people have been enthusiastic to receive their vaccine and the atmosphere on and around the treatment centre has been one of gratitude, joy and relief for so many people. Well done Brighton & Hove. Thank you.

At the end of a year which has been full of surprises we know the pandemic is not over yet but we can see Covid-19 related deaths, hospitalisation and infection rates dropping quickly. Brighton and Hove currently has rates well below the national average which can only be accredited to the collective and sacrificial efforts of so many; from the preventative actions of the whole population, to the extraordinary efforts of individuals and organisations who have truly embraced the challenges we’ve faced. Not least, huge credit must go to the Public Health Team and all those involved at the most senior levels who have worked tirelessly and made brave and sometimes unpopular decisions to protect us all. Well done Brighton & Hove. Thank you.

These are just a few highlights, so much more has been done behind closed doors. Our own team at Arch have been extraordinary throughout everything, I cannot express my gratitude to them enough. We look forward to continuing to work with you all towards a better, brighter future which seeks to include, protect and provide for everyone in our great city.

Well done Brighton & Hove. Thank you.

Gary Bishop, CEO, Arch Health CIC

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