Dedicated clinic for refugees and asylum seekers launched | News and events

Dedicated clinic for refugees and asylum seekers launched

Refugee and asylum seekers clinical team

Refugees and asylum seekers can now receive a mental health assessment, support and signposting after Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) launched a specialist clinic designed to make it easier for forced migrants to access care.

The monthly consultant-led clinic gives people who have moved to Norfolk the chance to speak to clinicians, take part in an assessment and learn more about a wide range of support services. They have been set up by Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Yasir Hameed, who left Iraq as a refugee in 2005 after working as a junior doctor during the war.

“Many refugees and asylum seekers have experienced trauma in their home country but find it very difficult to access mental health services,” said Dr Hameed. “That is why I felt it was important to set up this clinic.

“We receive referrals from GPs or NSFT colleagues and will assess the patient before referring to the best-placed service to meet their needs. We can signpost them to other sources of support, such as the Red Cross, Bridge Plus and New Routes, and also work closely with Norfolk County Council’s People from Abroad Team, which offers initial assessments and ongoing support.

“We recognise that we need to do things differently with this group, as they often have significant unmet needs and face more challenges in accessing physical and mental health services than the local population. In addition, some are newcomers to the UK and don’t speak English, while their appointment at the clinic might be their first opportunity to access mental healthcare.

“We offer a holistic and culturally-sensitive assessment and focus on educating the clients about their condition and how they can manage it. We want to give them a feeling of safety, show them that we are listening and empower them to feel that whatever happens, they will overcome it."

The clinics are run by Dr Hameed and GP Dr Hannah Fox, with admin support provided by NSFT assistant psychologists Izobel Clegg and Eirini Charami-Roupa. They are held monthly at the REST hub in Bethel Street, which is run by Norfolk and Waveney Mind and provides a friendly and non-clinical environment which is easy for people to access.

“I left my home and career after my father was kidnapped and killed as there was an imminent threat to my family’s safety,” added Dr Hameed, who ran similar clinics between 2018 and 2020 but had to suspend them due to COVID-19. “My brother survived a terrorist attack in 2008 and developed post traumatic stress disorder, and I have grieved for many family members and friends who lost their lives due to the conflict in Iraq.

“That is why I feel very passionate about the mental health of forced migrants, and like any other clinician, my own experiences inform my practice and help me to empathise with my patients. Despite that, I never say to patients that I understand exactly how they feel, as each person's journey is different.

“Many people have shown amazing dedication and commitment to helping us launch these clinics, including our partners at Mind who have been incredibly supportive. We are now keen to hear from clinicians who could volunteer some time to support us in the future to extend this project and reach even more people. Anyone who is interested in the mental health of forced migrants and cross-cultural psychiatry is welcome to come and observe a clinic and see if they would like to get involved.

“By helping this group as early as possible, we can not only improve their quality of life but also prevent them from needing further, more intensive care in the future, which also helps to ease pressure on the NHS.”

The clinics are open to people of all ages and are initially running as a six-month pilot, after which they will be evaluated with the hope of attracting formal funding so that they can continue in the future. Work is also taking place to launch a similar pilot in Suffolk.

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