Leading health charity, Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke, is determined to look after each and every local heart this March. As we move into Spring and warmer weather, the charity emphasises the importance of continuing to support the most vulnerable members of our community.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, one major step taken by NICHS, has been to ensure that the homeless can still access essential heart-health testing.
The charity has a long history of working alongside local homeless hostels providing in-person health checks, wellness talks and resources. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the services have been modified but the charity is still working hard to ensure that the right care reaches these communities.
NICHS’s remodelled program, ‘Well Space’, aims to provide sustainable health planning to homeless hostels; identifying their individual priorities, providing tailored training, and assisting in delivering health and wellbeing initiatives. The aim is to empower the hostel employees to look after their own health and actively support the health of their clients, aided by the guidance and backing of NICHS.
Expanding on ‘Well Space’, and due to the inability to conduct face-to-face health checks, the charity has just launched a new online training program to train hostel staff themselves to check their client’s blood pressure (BP) and test for Atrial Fibrillation (AF) (a type of irregular heart beat).
Fidelma Carter, Head of Public Health at NICHS, explains: ‘High blood pressure and AF are the two biggest indicators of stroke and heart disease but, if identified early-on, both can be treated and managed. It is very concerning that an estimated 40% of all AF cases lie undetected – those with AF are five times more likely to have a stroke. Plus, around 146,698 adults have undetected high blood pressure (HBP) in NI, which is responsible for over half of all strokes and heart attacks. If we can identify HBP or AF early, we can save lives.”
Thanks to generous funding from the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), NICHS has been able to offer this invaluable BP and AF testing training to 38 hostels in the Belfast and South Eastern Trust areas. This week alone, they had 32 participants and installed all necessary equipment and PPE into the Salvation Army (Grosvenor House) and Simon Community hostels in Bangor and Lisburn.
Sarah Doherty, Project Manager of Simon Community in Lisburn explains, “Many people who are homeless find accessing health care difficult and during the COVID-19 pandemic are reluctant to visit GP surgeries. Within Simon Community we support all our clients to access primary health care but having the opportunity to offer BP and AF checks will take the support we can offer to a higher level. We have a close working relationship with Chest, Heart and Stroke and are really grateful to be able to offer this service to our clients, with their support.”
Jane McMillan, Social Care Lead for Adults and Older People from HSCB says, “HSCB values the vital work that our partners in the community and voluntary sector deliver. During the COVID-19 pandemic
organisations across this sector have overcome significant challenges to ensure services can be maintained. Chest Heart and Stroke has been no exception, working tirelessly and effectively to put appropriate measures in place to ensure the continuing and safe provision of their blood pressure testing services.”
“In this context, HSCB are pleased to support the enhancement of Chest Heart and Stroke’s current services by providing funding to cover not only the costs of BP monitors and AF equipment but also the necessary training for staff. Together, these measures will help reduce the risks of stroke for those people living in homeless hostels.”
NICHS will continue to fight for our most vulnerable and, during the pandemic, will make sure that no one gets left behind.