Improving healthcare of Somali women in East London - Barts Charity

Improving health and healthcare for Somali women in East London

Somali-speaking Community Engagement Officer at Barts Health helps improve Somali women’s access to and experience of healthcare services – leading to plans to expand the service.

  • Date: October 23, 2023

East London has one of the largest and fastest growing Somali populations in Europe. However, language, cultural barriers and discrimination mean that Somali people’s access to and experience with healthcare can often be negative. These challenges have long been an issue and there’s a lack of information and evidence to address health inequalities in this community.

This is why we have funded a Somali-speaking Community Engagement Officer across Barts Health NHS Trust hospitals to engage with Somali women and gain a deeper understanding of their needs. In its first year, more than 100 Somali women have engaged with the team, leading to plans to expand this service across East London. 

Equipping women with the tools to take their health into their own hands 

The Community Engagement Officer role was developed in partnership with Barts Health, and a community-based charity called the Women’s Inclusive Team (WIT), a Somali-led women’s group run by Safia Jama MBE. The group offers activities and initiatives to empower Black and ethnic minority women in Tower Hamlets. 

Edna Ahmed was appointed into the Community Engagement Officer role to work closely with colleagues at Barts Health and WIT. Together they have worked on ways to improve Somali women’s access to, and experience of, hospital services. These have included: 

  • one-to-one engagement sessions to listen to the experiences of local women 
  • health promotion events with clinical specialists from Barts Health that focus on key areas, such as maternity and breast cancer awareness 
  • building the understanding and confidence of Barts Health staff to communicate with the Somali community. 

Success and expansion of the service 

During its first year (2022-2023) the team engaged with over 100 Somali women from the Tower Hamlets community who now regularly attend ongoing engagement and health awareness sessions. Barts Health quickly agreed to fund Edna’s role for a further 12 months because the impact of the project was clear from data early on. Now that the foundations are in place, Edna is planning to expand into Waltham Forest and Newham to reach more women across East London. 

Within the first year: 

  • more than 100 Somali women engaged with the team 
  • 10 health awareness events were delivered collaboratively between Barts Health and WIT  
  • 25 pregnant women accessed antenatal care and support through maternity drop-in sessions, after which 10 pregnant women said they engaged with hospital maternity services directly after sessions 
  • 60 women attended breast cancer awareness sessions, after which two went to their first ever breast cancer screening appointment 
  • community members said they felt more welcome in the healthcare system, and they had greater awareness of what services were available to them 
  • healthcare staff said they had improved their communication skills and understanding of working with people from other cultures. 
"I was able to hear first-hand some of the challenges and health-related issues the community were experiencing. A topic that was consistently brought up by the women was maternity. Together, with the amazing Patient Experience Midwives at Barts Health, we designed and organised a biweekly maternity drop-in session at WIT. The sessions give local Somali women direct access to a midwife in a familiar setting.
Shares Edna Ahmed, Community Engagement Officer

“I am Somali myself and have been present during these sessions to be an active translator and familiar face. We’ve been able to successfully overcome language and cultural barriers while providing a safe space for these women. By bringing maternity services to a community setting, such as WIT, we hope to build trust between the community and Barts Health. This is helping to improve health outcomes by reducing the risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Through all of the sessions we’re delivering, we’re empowering and equipping these women with the tools they need to make informed decisions and take their health into their own hands. As we all know, empowered communities are healthy communities,” continues Edna, Community Engagement Officer.

Making better healthcare possible

Barts Charity brings brilliant ideas, ground-breaking research and transformational healthcare to life in East London. Our latest impact report shines a light on some of the projects we have supported recently, including vital services like this one.

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