Caring for Vulnerable People

There are many groupings of vulnerable people in the world*. Furthermore, the numbers of vulnerable people in general populations are much higher than may initially be expected. While health education programmes commonly include training in the needs of some groups of vulnerable people, for example, frail older people with multiple chronic conditions, health professionals often lack awareness, knowledge and/or confidence in dealing with people with other vulnerabilities. 

The aim of this working group is to create a community of educators and practitioners who will work towards better experiences of, and outcomes from, healthcare related encounters between vulnerable people and the health professionals who treat them.The objectives of this group are to: 

  • Identify knowledge and skills gaps amongst health professionals in dealing with vulnerable people (whether as individuals or as people groups)
  • Increase awareness of the knowledge and skills gaps amongst health professionals and/or between health systems
  • Promote the development of educational innovations that increase health professionals’ expertise in working with vulnerable people
  • Undertake research to assess, from the perspectives of health professionals and vulnerable service users, the effectiveness and transferability of educational innovations 
  • Advocate for better awareness amongst policy makers and health educators of the mental, physical and social impacts upon vulnerable people when health professionals and health systems are poorly equipped to deal with their needs. 

Chair: Dr Sharyn Maxwell,  Newcastle University

Dr Sharyn Maxwell has worked towards improving health and healthcare for people who struggle to access healthcare services, whether because of developmental disabilities, mental ill health, or socioeconomic circumstances in various capacities throughout her career. She has professional experience in the Australian public service, the charitable sector in Australia and India, Christian ministry and, via her posts in Australian and English universities, health systems improvement in both nations. Reflecting her career, she has a multidisciplinary academic background with degrees in economics, health services management and organisational change in healthcare. 

Currently she is a Senior Lecturer and Senior Tutor in the School of Pharmacy at Newcastle University, England. Prior to that, she was the Director of Postgraduate Studies in the School of Medicine, Pharmacy & Health at Durham University. Whilst at Durham University she was a co-director of the University’s Project Sri Lanka, which was established after the 2004 tsunami disaster. Her current research and development interests concern improving pharmacy-related care for refugees and young children and improving the University experience for students and staff whose life circumstances make university life particularly challenging. 

* Depending on whether one takes a local, national or international perspective, vulnerable people include but are not limited to:

  • People with learning disorders
  • People with poor mental health
  • People with dementia
  • Older people with issues of frailty, multiple comorbidities and/or polypharmacy needs
  • People with low levels of literacy in their native language
  • People in institutionalised care settings
  • Those experiencing domestic abuse and family violence
  • Substance abusers
  • Homeless people
  • Sexually active young people
  • Young children, especially those affected by any of the other issues in this list
  • Women and girls who are at risk of FGM
  • Marginalized and/or indigenous populations within nations
  • People subject to persecution within their countries
  • People in fragile, conflict affected states
  • People being drawn towards terrorist organisations
  • Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers (especially those who are not fluent in the main language of their place of asylum)
  • Carers of the above