‘There are so many barriers’: Meet the clinic helping Ilford’s homeless access healthcare

PUBLISHED: 10:30 03 December 2018 | UPDATED: 10:35 03 December 2018

Welcome Centre Nurse Stephanie O'Leary.

Welcome Centre Nurse Stephanie O'Leary.


A row of stitches holding shut Kevin’s* stomach had burst open when he arrived at the door of nurse Stephanie O’Leary’s clinic for rough sleepers in Ilford.

Welcome Centre Nurse Stephanie O'Leary.Welcome Centre Nurse Stephanie O'Leary.

He had undergone an emergency surgery days earlier to mend a ruptured stomach ulcer, having spent years sleeping rough in Ilford battling alcoholism.

“Whether he discharged himself or was discharged by the hospital, I don’t know,” Stephanie said.

She immediately rushed Kevin back to hospital to be re-operated on and patched up.

Days later he arrived at her door again with his stomach wound gaping.

“We ended up trying to do dressings to keep it clean and prevent infection” Stephanie said. “It was challenging.”

He died a few months later. Stephanie could not confirm the cause of death.

Stephanie, who has worked as a nurse in primary care for 25 years, set-up her clinic for rough sleepers in The Welcome Centre, in St Mary’s Road, Ilford five years ago.

To prevent incidents like Kevin’s happening again, she tries to coordinate how homeless patients are discharged from hospital post-surgery.

She seeks to ensure they have a bed to recover in, putting them into temporary accommodation if funds are available.

Her clinic runs independently under a project she set up called Healthy Living Healthy Lives, and her team includes a counsellor, a masseuse and two sports coaches.

It aims to provide a safety net for rough sleepers who have fallen through the cracks in the health service.

“There are so many barriers,” she said.

“Unfortunately, GPs are not set up for people that are homeless.”

“You are on an appointment system and you get penalised if you don’t go, and rightly so.

“But if you haven’t got an address it is difficult to register with a GP.

“And if you are sleeping rough and you haven’t got a watch, you’re not going to remember your appointment.”

Stigma around rough sleepers can create further problems, she added.

“I have seen staff look people up and down and say they don’t have any room on their list,” she said.

“People have booked appointments and, when they go down there, they are told ‘we don’t have any appointments’.”

To address this, Stephanie carries out health checks with all newcomers and aims to ensure they are all registered with a GP – which she says is “the gateway to the NHS”.

Her clinic is open for clients to walk in at any time on Wednesdays and Fridays and on average she sees 40 people each day.

The most common needs are mental health-related, drugs-related or chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and respiratory conditions.

Following check-ups she passes their information to their GP or refers them to partner agencies to get them access to the help they need.

“I recently had a gentleman who I found displayed symptoms of tuberculosis,” she said.

“I referred him to the chest clinic and now he is being successfully treated.”

Stephanie is currently not allowed to prescribe medicines to her clients – although she is qualified to do so - as her clinic operates outside of, but in coordination with, the NHS.

However her clinic also helps by safely storing clients’ medicines and ensuring prescriptions are taken regularly.

Massage therapist Linda Pearson told the Recorder that her sessions are, for some, “the only positive touch they have ever had”.

Many undertake long hours of cash-in-hand labouring work, she added, and are aching and anxious from sleeping outside.

“People will call us scum, they will [urinate] on us, they set fire to us,” she said, describing some of the experiences clients have confided to her.

David Savage has been offering counselling services at the centre for nearly nine years and see three or four people during each of his weekly sessions.

“[The issues] range from addiction to domestic violence, historical abuse or situational circumstances,” he said.

“I aim to provide a space where people have somebody to talk to that is not trying to solve their problem for them.”

“Sometimes they just want to talk and I try to fulfill that.”

Looking forward, Stephanie said her main challenge is securing funding for the next five years, as her current grant from the Big Lottery Fund is soon due to finish.

“If we don’t get further funding this service will come to an end,” she said.

She added that she welcomes help from health professionals - such as dieticians or experts in smoking cessation - who are interested in volunteering their services.

Get in touch at

*Name changed to respect privacy


Redbridge Together

Redbridge Together, of which the Recorder is a media partner, aims to raise £500,000 for Project Malachi and The Welcome Centre.

Project Malachi will see the creation of a temporary hostel for rough sleepers and homeless people made from recycled shipping containers in Chadwick Road.

Support workers from charity Ramfel will provide rough sleepers living in the hostel with immigration advice who need it.

The Welcome Centre, in St Mary’s Road, helps with providing hot meals, showers, clothing, laundry but also advice and support, training and employment and a nurse led clinic supporting health and mental health.

Businesses can support by donating money, raising funds, displaying Redbridge Together promotional material in businesses or offering work placements.

The campaign is an association an association between Ilford Salvation Army, The Welcome Centre, Ilford BID, the Ilford Recorder and Redbridge Council.

To get involved email:

Donate £3 by texting LIFE to 70145 or at

Related articles

Latest Ilford Stories

18 minutes ago

The lost stories of 54 Goodmayes parishioners who gave their lives in the First World War are set to be uncovered with the help of a £10,000 grant.

Yesterday, 17:00

The former professional development phase lead coach moved to Barnet earlier this month

Yesterday, 17:18

Our reporter Liam Coleman met with the big man before a hectic few weeks.

Yesterday, 16:02

The Exchange in Ilford has added a state-of-the-art, Savannah-themed play area, with hand painted animal sculptures, to its brand new family zone, designed by American creative agency Playtime

Yesterday, 16:00

Essex club played against 10 men for almost an hour after Josh Staunton saw red for Shaymen

Yesterday, 15:49

Ilford’s Labour MPs have called for a second referendum to be held on Brexit after prime minister Theresa May called off a Parliamentary vote on her deal.

Yesterday, 15:00

Dee Safer’s team have won six games in a row and a seventh consecutive triumph would send them first

Yesterday, 14:09

Crossrail, London’s new east to west railway service, may be delayed even further and could require a £2billion funding boost, Transport for London (TfL) has confirmed.


The Exchange in Ilford has added a state-of-the-art, Savannah-themed play area, with hand painted animal sculptures, to its brand new family zone, designed by American creative agency Playtime

Are you an unpaid carer aged 25 or over? Are you interested in working towards getting into or back into work? Do you need practical help and support to get ready for this big step? If your answer is yes to at least two of these questions read on.

Struggling to find a buyer for your home in a slower market? We speak to Ilford property expert Nina Kaura from Portico about the Crossrail effect and why getting things right first time will get you the best price for your property.

Newsletter Sign Up

Ilford Recorder twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Most read news

Hot Jobs

Show Job Lists

Education Promo

Digital Edition


Enjoy the
Ilford Recorder
e-edition today


Education and Training


Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now