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NHS’ Dr Bola Owolabi visits first Seafit health event of 2022

National NHS director, Dr Bola Owolabi, learned about challenges to accessing healthcare for fishermen at the first Seafit event of 2022

Fishermen and their families in the town of Cromer, Norfolk received access to free healthcare as part of the first SeaFit event of 2022, which also welcomed a visit from Dr Bola Owolabi, Director of the National Healthcare Inequalities Improvement Programme (HiQiP) for NHS England and NHS Improvement. The resumption of in-person events comes at a time when the fishing community has been particularly affected financially, and from a health and wellbeing perspective by the continued uncertainty of the Coronavirus pandemic.

NHS HiQiP Director Dr Owolabi said: “It was great to see the brilliant work of the Seafit programme first hand, and see how the initiative is positively helping the coastal community it serves. I was impressed by some of the programme’s adaptations to provide care in such extraordinary circumstances, and through the Core20PLUS5 approach, NHS England aims to support many coastal communities, and deliver on our commitment to reduce inequalities across England.”

The nature of commercial fishing, which is dependent on the weather, tides, and fish locations, makes it very difficult for fishermen to make and keep pre-booked health appointments. After all, if these individuals are not at sea, they are not earning a living. Furthermore, as fishermen are traditionally expected to be strong and resilient, they are often less likely to seek medical support.

The Seafit programme, which was set up in 2018 and run by the Fishermen’s Mission and the Seafarers Hospital Society, grants fishermen and their families easy access to healthcare services via quayside events that cater to both, booked appointments and walk-in visits. These events are often run in conjunction with local health services and charities.

Fishermen attending the Cromer Seafit event were given access to dental checks via the mobile dental unit of the Dentaid Charity, Hepatitis C checks conducted by the Eastern Liver Network and mental health support through information chats with a Fishwell Mental Health Counsellor.

SeaFit Programme Manager, Carol Elliott was extremely pleased with the success of the event and the platform that it offered for NHS’ Dr Owolabi to learn more about the specific difficulties that members of the fishing community face in accessing health services. Carol said ‘We were delighted to welcome Bola and her team to see the types of services we take to the fishermen. Each health event is different and we appreciate  local services giving up their time to support fishing communities’.

Sandra Welch, CEO Seafarers Hospital Society said ‘We were delighted to see so many members of the fishing community take the opportunity to attend the event, some travelling up to an hour by road to access dental treatment. This clearly demonstrates the importance of this programme and its range of services.’

The Cromer event was well attended and sets a precedent for upcoming Seafit events to be held in Ramsgate Fish Quay (22nd and 23rd March), Skye (10th September) and at Shoreham Port (10th November). Fishermen in Scotland can also book to attend a 40-minute online training course (11th February) in the use of Naloxone, which is a drug that can reverse the effects of opioids in case of overdoses.

Fishermen or family members needing health and wellbeing support can find out more here.