Screening Rough Sleepers Research update

In June 2020 as a result of the first CoVid Lockdown a partnership between the Brighton-based HIV charity, The Martin Fisher Foundation and not for profit organisation EmERGE mHealth Ltd, saw the launch of a hepatitis and HIV screening programme (BBV) for temporarily housed rough sleepers in Brighton & Hove. Outreach workers from Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust (BSUH) and the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), aided by St Mungo’s support workers and Brighton Housing Trust (BHT), offered screening and sexual health assessments to homeless individuals, many of whom have had difficulty accessing traditional services. This project was funded by Gilead Sciences.

The project ran for 13 weeks from the Britannia, Kings and Brighton Hotels, the YHA and Phoenix Halls where 270 people were housed. After 3 months our fantastic outreach workers, Abby Smith-Hatton (BSUH) and Marek Coskry (THT), had approached 97% of clients, with 72% (n=192) taking the tests. The main reasons for declining were people were ‘already aware of their status’ or had ‘low perceived risk’.

16% (31/192) tested positive for previous hepatitis C (antibody) with 13 of these having active infection (RNA positive). The project has also provided a re-engagement opportunity for known HIV patients who had partly disengaged from care. A few vulnerable clients were diagnosed with STIs and engaged with B&H Sexual Health & Contraception (SHAC) services.

For the 179 clients who didn’t have active infection, many expressed gratitude and relief to know they were ‘all clear’. Of the 13 clients with active Hepatitis C, many were surprised to learn that the infection is now completely curable by taking just one tablet a day for only 8-12 weeks, with very few side effects. Engaging clients following diagnosis has been challenging but made easier with the wrap around care provided by the outreach workers, named St Mungo’s key-workers, the community hepatitis nurses and ARCH healthcare (primary care services). Moving forward we plan to continue this unique collaboration and continue offering BBV testing to rough sleepers in B&H through to Spring 2021.