The University’s Dental Academy and Eye Clinic teamed up to offer free dentistry, eye tests and prescription glasses to anyone living rough.

15 December 2021

2 min read

Dozens of the city’s homeless have been given free dental and eye care at a University of Portsmouth community outreach programme this month.

The University’s Dental Academy and Eye Clinic teamed up to offer free dentistry, eye tests and prescription glasses to anyone living rough.

There are an estimated 100-plus homeless people in the region.

Portsmouth is thought to be only the second city in the UK to offer free dental and eye health checks and treatment to its homeless population.

The idea was the brainchild of Dental Academy clinical teaching fellow Janani Sivabalan, who wanted to find out what barriers this hard to reach group faced in seeking dental care.

She said: “We knew from an outreach activity with the homeless run by our students before the pandemic that there was a huge need for routine dental care among the city’s homeless population, but when we opened our doors for follow-up treatment, only a tiny handful turned up.

“I wanted to try and see if we could better understand the barriers these people face in accessing dental care, so we could help more people.”

I wanted to try and see if we could better understand the barriers these people face in accessing dental care, so we could help more people

Janani Sivabalan, Dental Academy clinical teaching fellow

The Dental Academy is an NHS-run dental clinic offering dental hygiene, dental nursing, dental therapy, and dentistry, with students working under the supervision of qualified staff.

Ms Sivabalan approached homeless charities in the city and worked with them to develop specialist clinics, offering each patient up to two hours in the dentist’s chair.

She also asked the University’s Eye Clinic director Daniel Stride if he would be interested in helping those who turned up, and he was quick to agree. He said: “The Eye Clinic has a history of helping those for whom high street opticians might not always be the easiest or best option. For example, we work with children with autism and other disabilities and adults with highly complex eye problems, all of whom tend to need longer appointments. We have so much specialist equipment and highly trained staff, it was a no-brainer to extend our offer to the region’s homeless.”

The Eye Clinic was given free frames and lenses to help the homeless by International Eyewear and Zeiss Vision UK.

The Dental Academy and Eye Clinic set aside four hours to run two consecutive clinics for up to 16 people across four weeks. The first two sessions were fully booked, via homeless charities, within a day of being made live.

The Eye Clinic has a history of helping those for whom high street opticians might not always be the easiest or best option. We have so much specialist equipment and highly trained staff, it was a no-brainer to extend our offer to the region’s homeless.

Daniel Stride, Eye Clinic Director

Fifty patients were seen for dental work, with gum and tooth treatments including scaling, fillings and extractions. Five patients attended eye clinics, all had either not had a test for years or had never been tested and all were prescribed glasses  most had uncorrected short sightedness and one patient needed bifocals for distance and reading.

Ms Sivabalan collated the patients’ responses to a questionnaire they were invited to complete during their visit to see what lessons can be learned.

Cllr Darren Sanders, Portsmouth City Council's Cabinet Member for Housing and Preventing Homelessness, said: “We are so pleased to hear that this scheme has had such good take up, and that people sleeping rough have been able to access this vital support. We're always on the lookout for innovative ways to provide services to people experiencing homelessness, so it's been really gratifying to link these teams from the University up with charities and providers in the city to get care where it's needed most.”

Help is at hand for anyone sleeping rough or facing homelessness this winter. The Portsmouth Rough Sleeping Hub at Kingsway House on Elm Grove is open daily from 8am to 4pm – including Christmas Day and New Year's Day. People can make an appointment in person at the hub or by calling 023 9288 2689. Anyone who is concerned about someone they think is sleeping rough, go to Streetlink website so outreach workers can try to put them in touch with the help available.