Homeless man finds shelter, and the online skills to improve his health.

Less than six months ago Ron Dale was living in a tent by the motorway. Poor mental and physical health and a gambling addiction had left him out of work, homeless and surviving on end-of-date sale food. Now however, Ron has found housing and is gaining the skills he needs to improve his health and wellbeing – thanks to the help of a local charity.

Ron, 61, from Hull was amongst the most excluded people in society however, due to his own reluctance to discuss his situation, and a lack of understanding from his Jobcentre Plus advisor about his personal circumstances.

When the advisor became concerned that Ron was missing his job search obligations and was at risk of having his benefits sanctioned, Inspire Communities, a local partner in Tinder Foundation’s Widening Digital Participation programme

Dave Edeson, Director at Inspire Communities Hull – part of the UK online centres’ network – tells us: “We took Ron through an initial assessment and we soon learned that his living arrangements were far from ideal. He was living in a tent on the side of the A63, just outside Hull and heating noodles and coffee with a candle. He’d been there through a really difficult winter and Ron told us he was afraid he was going to die in that tent.”

The Inspire Communities team quickly established several interventions. Dave goes on: “We set up meetings with two local homeless charities which led to Ron applying for a space in a local hostel and being housed within a month.

“We were also keen to reduce the worry about benefit sanctions, so Ron started to attend our job club twice weekly where he received help with his job searches to meet his JCP obligations. This, along with support to manage his gambling addiction and to adopt better money management strategies, really started to make a difference to Ron’s wellbeing.”

To support his search for employment, Inspire Communities also helped Ron develop his computer skills by introducing him to the Learn My Way website.

“He had very little experience of computers before he came to us,” Dave explains, “and he was actually quite afraid of using them, but the Learn My Way resources helped him build up his skills gradually and he’s now conducting all his job searches independently. When it comes to computers and the internet, he now relies on Inspire Communities more for access than actual support.”

Before long, the Inspire Communities team saw the opportunity for Ron to use his new skills to help improve his health.

“Once Ron had moved in to the hostel, he was about four miles away from the GP he was registered at,” says Dave. “He was also not particularly happy there, so was keen for a fresh start with a new doctor.

“We helped Ron get familiar with the NHS Choices website and use the ‘Services Near You’ section, to find nearby GPs. He had a look at the reviews, opening times, picked a surgery and after printing off a registration form and dropping it into the surgery he was registered in less than a week.”

Ron was really pleased with his new surgery and the services they provided – “He suffers from particularly severe anxiety issues and dealing with receptionists that weren’t familiar with him and his situation had caused problems in the past. Even trying to get through to book an emergency appointment in that narrow, early morning window had proved stressful in the past.

“So Ron was really happy that the surgery let him book appointments and order repeat prescriptions online. These services went a long way to alleviating his anxiety, especially once the Inspire Communities showed him how the system worked and how easy it was to make an appointment.”

After booking an appointment to talk about everything from arthritis in his knees to his emotional wellbeing, Ron is feeling better than ever about the accessibility of services and the quality of care.

Dave says: “What may be an annoyance to some of us can be a stressful episode for others, so he’s much happier with booking appointments online at his leisure, rather than the constant engaged tone he used to hear before. And he’s much happier with his new GP too. Not only is it closer but he says the conversations he’s having with the doctor are making him feel much more included in decisions about his healthcare.”

The online health services provided by NHS now plays an integral role in Inspire Communities’ overall service offering.  “At Inspire Communities we pride ourselves in breaking down barriers and making life easier for people,” explains Dave, “and the support from the NHS Choices site and the GP online system has helped us do that for Ron in a big way – we look forward to doing it for even more of our clients.”