Home General High-Tech ‘Find and Treat’ Service Tackles Tuberculosis in London’s Homeless Population

High-Tech ‘Find and Treat’ Service Tackles Tuberculosis in London’s Homeless Population

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A high-tech, mobile health clinic, ‘Find and Treat’ is being used to improve screening, testing and treatment of around ten thousand vulnerable, homeless and high-risk people in London every year. 

The Find and Treat van, deployed from University College London Hospitals (UCLH), is part of NHS Digital’s Future Wireless Project Trials and aims to tackle a wide range of infectious and chronic diseases by screening, diagnosing, and treating conditions such as: tuberculosis, Covid, Hepatitis B and C, HIV, cardiovascular issues, STIs and Flu. 

The Find and Treat service was recently fitted with a range of high-tech tools and software to enable real-time remote diagnosis and referrals on board the mobile health unit. Technology includes a digital portable X-ray camera, artificial intelligence software, a tele-radiology network to allow remote reading of X-rays using the trials flat-pack satellites, 4G and 5G routers, roaming SIM cards and smart antenna systems.  

Other trials included in NHS Digital’s Future Wireless Project Trials are aimed at improving connectivity in remote areas – with emerging wireless technologies, such as 5G and Low Earth Orbit satellites (which improve signal strength and allow for faster message transmission) – being used by remote healthcare workers in digitally isolated health centres to improve care. Another trial is investigating the benefits of a faster and more reliable 5G network in hospitals, with virtual reality, augmented reality and electronic observation technologies being trialled. 

Patrick Clark, NHS Digital’s Director of Infrastructure Services, said: ‘We want technology to be used to help make healthcare accessible for everyone and reliable, high-speed connectivity is vital to enabling that. The multiple wireless connectivity options on board UCLH’s high-tech Find and Treat mobile unit are enabling sophisticated digital solutions to be used to help vulnerable patients get diagnoses quickly and easily without needing to visit a hospital. We’ll be monitoring the impact of the Find and Treat scheme in London and considering how such initiatives might be successfully adopted elsewhere to reach those least able to access healthcare.

‘As well as the Find and Treat service, our other Future Wireless Project Trials are looking at how emerging wireless technologies could be used by healthcare workers in digitally isolated hospitals and health centres to improve care.’

Find and Treat’s team of peer workers, who have lived experience of homelessness, help build trust and understanding with a patient group suffering from diseases of poverty and inequality. During the pandemic, the Find and Treat team also provided Covid testing and vaccinations to people experiencing homelessness.  

Ousainou Sarr, Find and Treat Outreach Worker, was diagnosed with tuberculosis by the service in 2011, after losing his job and living on the street. He now uses his past experience of homelessness, and diagnosis through Find and Treat, to encourage people currently facing homelessness to access the service.  

Ousainou said: ‘People sleeping rough are very vulnerable to TB. I encourage them to be screened on board the van and explain the benefits to them – the service can screen people with X-rays, provide diagnoses on the spot and, most importantly, follow up with people to make sure they get the treatment they need. I can’t thank Find and Treat enough for the service it provides to people who are homeless. If it wasn’t for Find and Treat, I wouldn’t be here today.’

Professor Alistair Story, Find and Treat Clinical Lead, UCLH, added that people experiencing homelessness are at continual risk of TB: ‘Day centres can be crowded and poorly ventilated. People sleeping rough often huddle together for warmth which can aid transmission. Respiratory health is poor among the people we see, many hostel residents have histories of sleeping outside in doorways and under bridges, inhaling traffic pollution. It wrecks their immune system which means it is really important to find and treat TB as quickly as possible in this population.’

NHS director for Health Inequalities Dr Bola Owolabi said: ‘The pandemic shone a light on health inequalities across society and tackling these inequalities is a top priority for the NHS. This is a fantastic on the ground initiative led by the NHS which will help thousands of the most vulnerable get the care they need.’

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