When I had an invitation to a 30 year party at our local hostel for homeless mentally ill. I was too quick to accept as I didn’t realise I had then laid myself open into having to give a speech. I thought, ” That’s not too bad as I know the staff and residents well”.Then it was revealed that ‘by the way’ the Mayor, the MP and Ealing Gazette and ….. would be there!
When I arrived I was relieved to see the familiar faces of the staff and patients- initially not immediately recognised as they had dressed up for the occasion and I was pleased I had appropriately attired.
I nervously gave the initial speech after introduction from the director of Hestia and then we had ‘the tree planting ceremony’ by the Mayor – an apple tree.
This was followed by an entertaining speech from Steve Pound who couldn’t resist relating the story of the circus elephant that was buried on Castlebar Hill many years ago when it died whilst walking from Hanwell acknowledging the elephant as being universal symbol of strength, loyalty, divinity and good luck appropriate for the siting of this important residence.
He then cut the cake!
Many of you will recognise this house which is on Castlebar Hill, Ealing and has always been known as Dame Gertrude Young House, although no-one knows exactly who she was.
The only information available is that in 1933 Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, opened the Dame Gertrude Young Memorial Convalescent Home. The building, with 4 acres of gardens, had been bequeathed to the Central London Throat and Ear Hospital by the Hospital’s Vice-President and a friend of Florence Nightingale, Col. Sir John Smith Young, on the proviso that it be used as a convalescent home for the Hospital. A liberal endowment fund was also bequeathed for its maintenance. The Home had accommodation for 26 patients – 8 males, 10 females and 8 children.
During WW2 the gardens provided vegetables for patients in the Home and its parent Hospital.
By 1964 the building had become a geriatric hospital for the North West Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board, with 19 beds.
By 1967 it had 12 beds.
In 1976 it became a hostel for patients awaiting operation. It finally closed in 1977.
As we know it today The Dame Gertrude Young House opened in 1984. Hestia also liaise closely with Ealing council.
It is run by the St Mungo Community Trust (Hestia) and has accommodation for 20 vulnerable homeless men.
What is the St Mungo Trust ( Hestia)
In 1970 Jim Horne, a man who had personal experience of homelessness, started a soup run to help people living rough around the old Covent Garden Market.
Later that year he founded the St Mungo Community Trust, and obtained the use of run-down houses at token rents, from the Greater London Council and local authorities, to provide shelter for men and women living on the streets. For nearly a decade the Trust pioneered work in this area, running the old Marmite factory in Vauxhall, the old Charing Cross hospital and other properties to provide as many as 800 people a night with accommodation. It was the dedication of the members of the Trust and of those who supported them which kept them going in conditions which would seem almost impossible today.
When I arrived in 1997 I was warned that we should not register residents permanently and they should be always accompanied on their visits to the surgery and seen at separate times after surgery hours. I was horrified at the idea as I was committed to the ethos of the National Health which serves all people without discrimination and insisted from the outset that they should registered, given a new patient check in the same way as other patients and attend surgery with everyone else. I have to say with the sensitivity and support of the surgery staff there have been no significant problems. Admittedly on occasions when receptionists have noticed that one of them has been agitated or unwell they have gently lured them away , given them a cup of tea and discretely called one of us out if surgery to attend to them, which has sometimes alerted an observant waiting patient to become disgruntled at the thought of someone being taken out of turn. Although there was one occasion when I had been warned that one resident tended to get inpatient and ready to call him in without waiting for very long but when I went to call him in he exclaimed, “We are playing I-spy and it’s my turn”.
For those that don’t know this game it is ideal to play as a family especially whilst waiting. (I-spy is a guessing game. One player chooses an object that is visible to all the players and says, “I spy with my little eye something beginning with …”, naming the letter the chosen object starts with (e.g. “I spy with my little eye something beginning with C” if the chosen object is a car). Other players have to guess the chosen object.)
All of these patients have suffered serious mental illness, often rejected by their families and friends and as a consequence become homeless and subsequently are taken from the streets and often end up having long stay hospital admissions in some cases up to a year.
As the years have gone by we have formed a more positive relationship with these residents and my feedback from the warden in charge is that they appreciate coming to the surgery and looking after them has become an important part of my work as GP. Over the years I have watched many of them ‘turn around’ to lbe rehabilitated back into the community. The staff have an amazing gift of being able to patiently motivate them and guide them into feeling a part of a community and in some cases even helping them find employment and become independent. Working alongside these dedicated staff I have learnt so many different ways of getting alongside these men who can be challenging. The ‘knock on’ effect is that I have used these skills to communicate and understand patients and their families who could be potentially as vulnerable.
It is only in the past 3 years that it has been recognised that people with severe mental health have a life expectancy
10-15 years less than the rest of the population In a study looking at 30,000 patients they found that many were dying early from heart attack, stroke and cancer rather than suicide or violence. Is was stated in the press that
‘Mental health groups say vulnerable people need to be offered better care to prevent premature deaths.’
Now the government have recommended that patients with severe mental illness should have general medical checks!
More recently I have begun giving the residents talks on health issues and have taken medical students who have then chatted to them in small groups. The atmosphere has been positive and the questions interesting and they have asked me to give more talks which I hope to do in the coming months. Along with the staff we are encouraging healthy living particularly eating habits as many have living on fast food and living a poor lifestyle.
The Round Table bought a greenhouse for them and they have started growing vegetables and I am hoping that any gardeners in Ealing will be able to donate plants or gardening items to encourage this venture.
Thank you Sandra for letting me share this special occasion and to be associated with this wonderful organisation.