Teams of health professionals were ready to meet Kosovar refugees as they arrived in Scotland, to offer healthcare and support. Barbara Millar reports
Doctors and nurses were among those waiting on the tarmac at Prestwick airport, near Glasgow, last week to welcome the first Kosovar refugees to Scotland.
Two flights arrived, bringing 314 refugees from the Stenkovic camps near Skopje in Macedonia, according to the Scottish Office, which co-ordinated the arrival.
But while many of those fleeing the Balkans were elderly people or children, none needed immediate hospital care. In fact, says North Berwick GP Dr Neil Jones, 'the refugees were in a better condition than we thought they might be.'
About 50 refugees have gone to North Berwick in Lothian and some 70 to a reception centre in Renfrew, Argyll and Clyde.
But most have moved into high-rise flats in the Red Road and Sighthill areas of Glasgow, where teams of district nurses, health visitors and GPs have been helping out all week, dealing with immediate health problems.
The health professionals come mainly from north Glasgow's
10-practice Springburn health centre.
One of the GPs there, Dr Anna Pettigrew, says although the health visitors and district nurses have been able to visit the refugees in working time, the doctors have been involved on a voluntary basis, visiting refugees in their time off.
'We are trying to provide immediate medical cover and to get the refugees allocated to GP lists,' Dr Pettigrew says.
But it is a long task, she adds, and there has been little administrative back-up from Greater Glasgow health board.
'It would have been helpful had the health board sent a representative to work with social services on compiling a list of refugee names and their family groups for allocation to local GPs. We have had to do this ourselves, which has been time-consuming and quite difficult.'
Greater Glasgow health board retorts that its offers of help have not always been accepted.
A spokesperson says: 'The health board and the rest of the NHS in Glasgow have been in close liaison with those providing the services and have offered help and support that has sometimes been taken up. We will continue to offer whatever support is necessary to make the job easier for everyone involved.'
Dr Pettigrew is also surprised at the good state of health of the refugees. 'There have been a few cases of vomiting and diarrhoea and there are some cases which need to be referred to hospital, including a child who may need cardiac surgery. But nothing too serious has emerged so far.'
A team of district nurses, health visitors and GPs was on standby in Glasgow on Sunday night after the refugees had been transferred from the airport to their new homes. 'But they were not needed,' says Dr Pettigrew.
'The team went to the flats first thing on Monday morning and were able to deal with the cases of asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes as these people had not been able to get their normal medication in the camp.'
Derek Rae, locality manager for north Glasgow, has been co-ordinating the teams of health visitors and district nurses. There are many large families, with children from two weeks old to teenagers.
'We have been offering open-access clinics every morning and afternoon, with fairly low-level nursing support - seeing people with wounds that need to be dressed and those who need supervision with medication, because the instructions are in English.'
Health visitors have been playing a significant role in giving advice on infant feeding. Some women's breast milk has dried up and they are not familiar with how to make up formula milk.
Dental health is a big problem - the community dental team has been running clinics.
But district nurse Ellice Morrison believes that psychological problems may not surface until later. 'At the moment, many professionals and community organisations are involved with supporting the refugees.
'Today, for instance, they went to the local mosque with members of the Muslim community. But once this support is scaled down, community psychiatric nurses may have to become involved.'
Dr Neil Jones, whose GP practice in North Berwick will take on all 50 refugees there, says his most serious case is a woman who had a postpartum haemorrhage in Kosovo. She needs a transfusion.
'But there is nothing dramatic,' he says. All the refugees are to be screened for TB and the next task will be to catch up with children's immunisations, he adds.