The SHS is one of the world’s oldest maritime charities. Its new CEO, Sandra Welch, explains its role.
The Society is best known for the Dreadnought, strictly speaking just the second of three hospital ships that, from 1821, provided medical services off Greenwich for merchant seafarers until the work ‘came ashore’ in 1870 into the former Greenwich Hospital Infirmary (now the Dreadnought Building of Greenwich University). From then on it gained a worldwide reputation for its contribution to understanding diseases such as cholera, typhoid and scurvy, in turn leading to the creation of the Hospital for Tropical Diseases.
As it reaches its bicentenary, the Society’s basic purpose remains unchanged; but how support is provided has changed significantly. This was never more so than in 2020, when it responded quickly to the Covid pandemic, drawing down funds from its investment portfolio and increasing the number and level of grants to help seafarers and their dependants during the crisis.
The provision of confidential support for their mental health and well-being has remained one high priority, with 24/7 access. Another is fast-track NHS medical treatment for those working at sea via the Dreadnought medical facility at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital, and fast, free physiotherapy through the Society’s national network of providers.
It also provides:
- grants for emergencies, covering anything from domestic equipment and disability needs to help with funeral costs and essential debts. Additional money from Seafarers UK, the Maritime Anchor Fund, is also helping remedy financial hardships caused by Covid to UK-based Merchant Navy seafarers
- a specialist citizens-advice service – the Seafarers Advice & Information Line (SAIL) – which gives it free and confidentially on a wide range of issues
- Sea Fit, run in partnership with the Fishermen’s Mission, delivering a range of free health and welfare services at the quayside to fishermen.
So, what about the future? Having arrived to head the organisation last year, I have tried to bring a fresh focus on the holistic care of seafarers and their families. The Society has always been Greenwich-based (if perhaps often overlooked) and an interactive timeline covering its notable history is one feature of a new website.
And, of course, if anyone eligible needs our professional help, the contact details are: [email protected]
or phone 020 8858 3696