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Minister unveils new mobile health unit for homeless rough sleepers

The medical clinic was launched at the Irish Street Medicine Symposium in UCD (Sept 29th &30th)


The Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD today (29th September) unveiled the new Mobile Health Unit for homeless people sleeping rough at the Irish Street Medicine Symposium in UCD.


Speaking at the launch, Minister Harris said "I'm very happy to officially launch this new Mobile Health Unit today.  I am very aware of the difficulties faced by people who are homeless, who are at a far higher risk of poor health than people in secure housing.  I would like to reiterate my thanks to SafetyNet and Dublin Simon, as well as the HSE, for their commitment and dedication to improving health and social services for those who are homeless, in particular those sleeping rough and who have chronic health and addiction issues.  I have absolutely no doubt that the Mobile Health Unit, in providing this essential service, will improve the quality of life of very vulnerable people, connect them with the services they need and help offer a pathway into stable housing."


Established in 2010, the service is run by Safetynet and the Dublin Simon Community, and looks after the healthcare needs of people who are homeless and sleeping on the streets.


This specially fitted Mercedes Sprinter van has been kitted out as a medical clinic that replaces an old vehicle which was well past its sell-by date. The service runs every Tuesday and Thursday, where medical care is provided by a GP Registrar from Dublin based GP Training Programmes (Trinity College, UCD and North Dublin City GP Training Programme). The service also has a HSE funded nurse tasked with making referrals, following up and coordinating with the Safetynet in-reach team in hostels and the Dublin Simon Rough Sleeper Team.


Speaking about the unit, Safetynet General Manager and Symposium organiser, Dr Fiona O’Reilly said:


“Previously the mobile health service travelled to a number of homeless shelters each night for residents to board the vehicle if they sought medical assistance. Now with health services being offered by Safetynet Primary Care on-site in homeless facilities, the new service was reconfigured to target those not linked in with any hostel or health services.”


Demonstrating the need for such services, Dr. Austin O’Carrol Safetynet  Medical Director explained:


“Studies show that people who are homeless have mortality rates of 3½ to 4 times greater than the housed population. Evidence in Ireland and the UK suggests the need for specialised services because homeless people underutilise mainstream primary health care services for various reasons including accessibility, attitudes and medical card difficulties. It stands to reason so that different health seeking behaviours require innovative and adaptive services. This customised mobile health unit aims to overcome barriers of time, money, and trust, and provide tailored care to homeless people and those medically disenfranchised.”


Highlighting the growing problem in homelessness, Sam McGuinness from the Dublin Simon Community said:


“The total number of people homeless in Ireland rose by 25% from July 2016 to July 2017. Some 8,160 people are homeless in Ireland. In response to the deterioration in the homeless crisis and the increase in the numbers of people who are forced to sleep on the streets, Dublin Simon Community’s’ staff and volunteers walk the streets to identify people sleeping rough to link them in with services including the mobile health unit.”


Information on the Symposium

Running on 29th and 30th of September, the symposium was an opportunity to join a growing community of health and social care workers, academics, policy makers and planners working together to improve health outcomes for the most vulnerable in our society – homeless people, drug users, prisoners and vulnerable migrants.


Dr Anna-Marie Naughton, GP with the Adult Homeless Integrated Services in Cork, says that “health care in marginalised populations is complex and multifaceted. Patient’s journeys can encompass childhood abuse, mental health issues, addiction and physical illness. Effective interventions require communication and coordination of services with the service user at the centre. The 3rd Irish street medicine symposium is a fantastic opportunity for those working in this area to meet and exchange ideas and develop a national network of expertise and innovation.”


Hosted by Safetynet Primary Care and the Centre for Emergency Medical Science at UCD School of Medicine, with support from HSE Social Inclusion, presentations at the Irish Street Medicine Symposium Programme focused on new research, innovative initiatives and new ways to promote health and wellbeing among vulnerable populations.


Nigel Hewett OBE, Medical Director of Pathway in the UK, presented on international models of best practice in healthcare for the entrenched homeless. "Homeless people… don’t die from exposure. They die from treatable medical conditions."


Other themes included, Families in Homelessness, Hep C treatment, Mental Health and Self Care for Workers.


For more information:

  • Contact: Safetynet’s General Manager, Fiona O’Reilly on  0871628663 or email

  • Photographs available on request.

  • Presentation slides available on request.


About SafetyNet

Safetynet Primary Care is a charity with the overall aim of delivering the highest possible standards of health care to marginalized groups which includes groups such as homeless people, drug users and migrant groups without access to healthcare. It is part funded by HSE Social Inclusion
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