SHIPS: Smart Health Inclusion Peer Advocates

SHIPS Background

SHIPS is a Peer Advocacy programme delivered by Bevan Healthcare. Volunteers with lived experience are trained to support and enable patients experiencing digital exclusion and health inequalities to access the health and welfare services they need to be able to self-manage their health and wellbeing.

Webinar presented by SHIPS: ‘The Doctor will Zoom You Now’ – Overcoming Digital Barriers to Healthcare

Peer advocacy

Smart Health Inclusion Peer Advocates are people with lived experience of homelessness or the refugee asylum seeker process. They are recruited and trained to act as trusted volunteer support workers, working closely with people to help them develop skills and engage with services, including health services. Peer Advocates’ shared experience with patients enables them to build the trusting relationships required take a person-centred approach to supporting a person to develop skills and confidence in the way that is right for them. Peers also acts as role models – proving you can improve your health, gain independence and move on. Peer Advocates offer practical support to their clients such as support to book and attend both face-to-face and virtual appointments and registering with other primary care services such as dentists and opticians. They support patient to prepare for and co-ordinate their appointments; develop understanding of the roles of different professionals and services; ensure they not discriminated against; and ensure that they communicate effectively.

Digital inclusion

The Peer Advocates are equipped with technology and training to address the digital exclusion which has made life so difficult for some patients during the pandemic. The project addresses their own digital inclusion as well as the inclusion of the patients they support. Peer Advocates are Digital Champions and are able to support patients to develop their digital skills and confidence as well as refer those without devices or connectivity to be gifted equipment donated by partner organisations. Advocates promote and support the use of person-held, person-centred health records and apps, supporting patients to live more independently and self-care more effectively. This will enable them to work with patients to: ensure they understand what support they can access; understand their rights to accessing healthcare; access the healthcare they need when they need it; develop the digital skills needed to engage with a wide range of services to support health and wellbeing.

A cross-sector partnership

SHIPS is delivered by Bevan Healthcare and developed in collaboration with Groundswell and 100% Digital Leeds, based on Groundswell’s Homeless Health Peer Advocacy practice.

Bevan Healthcare CIC

Bevan Healthcare is an inclusion health practice providing innovative health and well-being services to a population of more than 7000 people across Bradford, Leeds and Hull. All of the practice’s patients are socially excluded and many are digitally excluded for a variety of reasons. Their health outcomes are demonstrably worse in terms of life expectancy and complications of preventable illness compared to the rest of the population. Patients include people experiencing homelessness and others in unstable accommodation, migrants in vulnerable circumstances as well as people seeking asylum, refugees and those with no recourse to public funds, and commercial sex workers. Many patients have both physical and mental health problems. Some also have drug and alcohol dependence. The services provided at Bevan are tailored for the people they serve, taking into account their needs and priorities.


Groundswell is a registered charity that exists to enable people experiencing homelessness to take more control of their lives, have a greater influence on services and play a fuller role in our community. They have been creating innovative, client-centred services for over 20 years, focusing on participation, research and health. They have been delivering Homeless Health Peer Advocacy in London since 2010 and have supported organisations around the UK and Ireland to set up their own peer-led services.


  • Improve digital literacy for peer volunteers and clients
  • Support people to overcome barriers to accessing health and care
  • Increased knowledge, confidence and motivation to manage health and engage with healthcare
  • Increased knowledge, confidence and motivation to engage with digital platforms for both clients and volunteers
  • Decreased reliance on emergency and secondary care
  • Link clients into a wide range of welfare support
  • Promote self-care and illness prevention
  • Enable recovery and independent living
  • Support volunteers to gain confidence and skills and to progress into employment or training

Outcomes to date

  • Recruiting 20 volunteer Peer Advocates with relevant lived experience
  • Training 15 of these volunteers to be ready to work with clients
  • Deploying 11 trained advocates to support clients facing barriers to digital inclusion
  • Securing regional funding from West Yorkshire and Harrogate Integrated Care System
  • Procuring technology packages for 73 end users including Lenovo tablets and MiFi devices with data
  • 20 smartphones with data provided to Leeds patients in partnership with Hubbub
  • In Leeds we have integrated the SHIPS offering into a multi-agency project supporting homeless patients who have recently been admitted to hospital and are being discharged into intermediate care facilities to avoid further experience of homelessness.

Feedback from patients

“This will change my life, I can’t afford data and don’t have a smart device.  I have mental health problems and being able to keep in touch with my family means the world to me”. “I was separated from my family on my journey here and have been looking for them for a long time.  Red Cross are helping me but I can go on things like Facebook to look as well.”

“Not had the money to get data or a device since my phone was stolen, this will help me lots. Thank you for thinking about me”

“I can’t thank you enough, I have a device which his brilliant and FREE data too, I am so lucky!”

“I can keep in touch with my family now, I haven’t seen them for ages since the lock down.”

Feedback from Peer Advocates

“I was really really nervous and doubted if I can do this role, with everyone’s support I have been able to help lots of people today.  I feel great that I can give back and help other people. It has made me feel confident and I know I am making a difference to people.”

“I didn’t know much about being homeless before I started this role, now I have a better insight into other people’s challenges.  I feel very humbled and I have nothing to complain about”

“The training and support has given me the confidence to start my Maths and English at college.  Once I have passed my exams I am coming back to be a Peer Health Advocate and hopefully get a job”.

“The experience and support I have got from Bevan has made me think seriously about my future.  I would love to train and work as an advocate as a career”.

“Meeting patients has given me an insight into the lives of other people and to appreciate what I have.”


National Voices, Unlocking the Digital Front Door

SHIPS project is a feature case study in this report that explores how the move to remote service models impacted people and how the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector (VCSE) has led innovative ways to deliver healthcare and support people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

National Voices, 2021: Unlocking the digital front door – keys to inclusive healthcare

National Voices, Unlocking the Digital Front Door report launch