Bradford health service gives hope to refugees and asylum seekers

An inner city GP practice which cares for some of the most disadvantaged patients in Bradford is helping to improve the future lives of refugee and asylum children through an innovative mental health scheme.

Bevan Healthcare has developed a programme – Sharing Stories, Building Hope – which focuses on helping children who have fled their war-torn homelands to become more resilient and to flourish, supporting them to make friends, do well at school and sleep well.

The practice’s involvement has seen children grow in confidence, smile more and be happy, settled and make friends at school.

“This has been a remarkable piece of work and has been a really humbling and uplifting experience for us,” said Gina Rowlands, managing director at Bevan.

“It has showed us that with these children it does not require a huge amount of bureaucracy – this is the barrier which will stop the children accessing services. It needs to be fluid and responsive to their needs and they must know that it is safe.”

At its meeting on 14 June, Bradford City CCG’s governing body will hear first-hand about the positive effects the programme has had on children, many of whom came to Bradford traumatised after witnessing war crimes, being victims of war crimes and staying in refugee camps.

Bradford has become one of the northern hubs for receiving refugee families through Home Office schemes such as the vulnerable person’s relocation scheme (VPRS) and the Gateway Protection Programme (GPP). In the last three years, Bevan Healthcare alone has received 650 refugees as new patients from these programmes.

In March this year, Bevan received the first arrivals from the new Home Office initiative: the vulnerable children resettlement scheme; and it is expected that, in total, 300 refugees will come to Bradford every year for the next five years, plus ad hoc unaccompanied children.

Sharing Stories, Building Hope has three elements: one-to-one counselling for GPP refugee children, group psychotherapy for VPRS refugees and antenatal courses for expectant mothers.

Counselling has been provided to children who have experienced violence against their families and communities as well as personal abuse. The impact on them has included being too frightened to go to school, flashbacks, sleeping problems and nightmares, loneliness and problems interacting with others.

With this support, children’s confidence has grown; they get along better with others, smile more, and more regularly attend, settle in and enjoy school.

Antenatal courses for expectant mothers, who are asylum seekers or refugees, are also provided, to focus on the importance of bonding between mums and their babies. The sessions, which were developed in response to reports of high ‘did not attend’ rates from this group of women, have led to positive changes for expectant mums.

Dr Akram Khan, clinical chair of Bradford City CCG, said: “The practice has had a truly life-changing effect on some of the most vulnerable and traumatised children in the world; it reminds us all of what the NHS is about and the positive impact it can have.”

Going forward and recognising gaps in provision, Bevan aims to provide a more sustainable service to support children and their families now and for the future.

Bevan Healthcare is a social enterprise GP practice providing health and social care to homeless people, asylum seekers and refugees, across the Bradford district

It provides a full range of GP services to its patients and works with partner organisations to offer a wider holistic service which supports people to find stable accommodation, training and employment – and move onto mainstream healthcare.