On the 12th May I had the pleasure of supporting the first of a series of Free GP Drop-In Clinics taking place across the coming six months and the experience really stuck with me. I’ve worked in the area since 2017 and pretty much since then have been aware of how much of a struggle it is for residents to get to see their local GP. I knew the basics, lots of new homes being built, a new health centre on the way, but in the mean-time long waits for residents in an area with particularly acute health needs in many cases. I also knew from the early days of working in the area how easily the connection between the housing growth and the already stretched health care facilities could lead to divisive sentiment between long-established and new residents.
When we were first established as Thames Ward Community Project a big part of our mandate was to ensure that the community didn’t become (or remain, depending on your perspective) divided, rather that residents of all parts of what was at that time Thames ward, would interact positively with each other as part of one community with equally positive life chances. The challenges residents were facing then, and are still facing now, in seeing their GP were not the fault of the new residents moving into the area as it grew, any more than it was the fault of the residents who’d lived in the area all their lives. In fact, the difficulty in seeing the local GP was (and still is) experienced by all residents in the same way. I’d been in a few meetings with representatives of the local council, developer and health partners and seen a genuine desire to find a resolution, or at least some sort of remedy, from all parties but until recently none had seemed to make much of a dent in the issue.
I came into the loop relatively late on this new initiative in partnership with the council and the local health centre (with funding provided by Barking Riverside Limited) as the work of Thames Life has been via our Health Outreach Officer Lucy Lee and CEO Matt Scott. But, what I wanted to do here was focus on my reflections from the first drop-in on the 12th May and what future Drop-In’s could mean for residents and Thames Life as an organisation.
Due to covid it’s been quite a while since Thames Life (and I) have been involved in a large community event like the one that took place on 12th May. It was great to be in-person, meeting so many residents – in many cases new residents I’d never met before – and knowing that the event I was involved with was making a real difference to their lives in a very immediate and real way. I witnessed a real-time change from so many of the residents I met from feelings I interpreted as uncertainty, scepticism and distrust when they arrived, turn into relief, reassurance and gratitude. We heard from residents who said it had been years since they had seen their doctor, from those who had been putting things off for a while because they knew how difficult it could be to get an appointment, and from those who were raving about the positive experiences they’d had with some of the extended services present on the day, such as the hand and shoulder massage, talking therapies, blood pressure checks and cost of living advice. We heard lots of praise of the experience of being able to see a doctor within 20 mins or so without an appointment, where they would otherwise have had to wait months. We also noted lots of compliments on the overall vibe of the event feeling very different to a typical visit to the GP, with lots of community groups present to speak to those who could benefit from their services e.g. local faith groups, parent and youth groups, arts, health, wellbeing and bereavement groups too.
All in all, it was amazing to play a small part in making the day a success and see the positive impact it had on so many residents. Knowing that I’m part of one of the organisations which made this initiative possible fills me with an enormous sense of pride and a significant amount of the recognition and respect for the results so far (and to come) go to our fabulous Health Outreach Officer (and local resident) Lucy Lee for making so much of this possible and ensuring each event runs smoothly.
The next FREE Drop-In Clinic is happening monthly on Friday 9th June, and monthly thereafter on Friday 14th July, Friday 11th August, Friday 8th September and Friday 13th October. We have been out as a team leafletting at the local schools and left information at all local community venues and will do so just before each of the next clinics to ensure that residents know when the next one is.
We encourage anyone interested to come along and see for themselves!