Article by Margaret Greenfields
Between September and December this year a team of trained Gypsy, Traveller, Boater and Showmen interviewers will be carrying out a study of the health needs of members of their communities living in the Bath and North East Somerset and North Somerset areas. The survey aims to interview 50 Boaters. If you are interested in taking part please contact one of the people listed at the end of this article. Three Boaters will be trained to act as interviewers.
The two health authorities responsible for these local areas have commissioned the Institute for Diversity Research (IDRICS) at Buckinghamshire New University to train local community members to carry out a study on services accessed by Gypsies, Travellers, Showmen, Roma and Boaters. The survey will look at whether or not health care and other services, such as preventative treatment or support for people with disabilities, are accessible and culturally appropriate for people who are highly mobile, particularly Boaters without home moorings and Travellers on the roadside, or who may not be aware of their rights to medical treatment.
As far as we know, this is the first ever survey of Boater health needs in the UK so this project will hopefully shed light on how Boaters access health care and whether being required to travel to a different place every 14 days and lack of access to affordable moorings (where these are wanted) can have a negative impact on access to health care and treatment.
The researchers also want to talk to people living on moorings, on sites (with and without planning permission) or who are in houses, as there is increasing evidence that Gypsies, Travellers, Showmen and Roma people experience significantly poorer health than ‘mainstream populations’ with housed Gypsies and Travellers often suffering from social isolation and racism with major impacts on their well-being; and members of all communities sometimes reporting cultural barriers to engaging with services as a result of health care providers just ‘not getting’ what it is to be a Boater, Roma, Gypsy, Traveller or Showman.
To date almost nothing is known about Roma health needs and use of services in the West of England so this study is a chance for all the communities listed above to have their say about their health care preferences and needs, experiences of accessing services, how their health and support needs are affected by their accommodation (or lack of it); the ways in which their communities support each other in keeping well, and what they need from their local health authorities to support them in living healthily.
A further survey of health professionals in the area is also being carried out to see how much doctors, nurses and other specialists know about working with the communities, whether they feel they need more training in cultural matters and what they feel would help to break down barriers between Boaters, Gypsies, Travellers, Showmen and Roma and health staff.
In addition to the survey, early in 2013 it is expected that some specialist focus groups (group discussions) will take place to allow community members to talk to researchers about issues which have come up in the surveys, for example how easy it is to get health workers to come out to the towpath; the need for specialist health information in a variety of formats such as DVDs or graphic formats or how to access support to care for disabled family members or cultural issues around health treatment.
In total around 50 Boaters and 100 Gypsies, Travellers, Roma and Showmen on sites and in housing, will be interviewed across BaNES and North Somerset. The questionnaire, developed with help from the health authority and community interviewers as well as the academic team, includes a wider variety of questions about health conditions, satisfaction with services received and suggestions for improvements. Although the report will summarise the findings from all communities, as well as making a series of recommendations, all information will be anonymised so anyone taking part is guaranteed that their personal information will be held confidentially with only the academic team seeing all of the data.
The report will be presented to the health authorities in the Spring of 2013 and anyone who takes part will be offered the chance to receive a summary of the report or to be put in touch with the health authorities if they are interested in taking part in any future consultations or health outreach programmes which are developed.
The IDRICS team, led by Margaret Greenfields, a former BaNES resident who is also a Trustee of the Travellers Aid Trust, have between them over 50 years of experience in working with Gypsy, Roma, Traveller and Showmen communities and have been involved in earlier Gypsy and Traveller Area Assessments and site identification projects across the West Country, as well as carrying out health projects with a wide variety of travelling people in other parts of the UK.
For further information or if you might be interested in being interviewed please leave a message with Jackie McPeak 01494 603029 (ansaphone out of office hours); Sylvie Parkes 07732 628077 or Margaret Greenfields 07788 545777