For Immediate release
NHS should provide dedicated provision for homeless people, says St Mungo’s
Current policy denying treatment to a third of homeless people
An influential charity is this week calling for a radical shake up in health policy to stop a major health crisis among some of the most vulnerable people in the UK. A report published by St Mungo’s sets out shocking new evidence about the lack of recognition given to the special healthcare needs of homeless people.
The report, ‘Homelessness: it makes you sick’ identifies the severity of these needs, the scale of multiple conditions suffered by homeless people, and the problems they face in accessing basic healthcare.
St Mungo’s is calling for the Government to recognise these issues and equip the health service to deal with them, arguing that failure to do so will increase future pressure on NHS resources.
St Mungo’s Director of Programmes Peter Cockersell, said:
“The Government has rightly pledged to tackle health inequalities, but one of the biggest inequalities of all is being ignored. Homeless people suffer from a uniquely complex set of health problems, which require a wide range of medical attention.
“Unfortunately current healthcare policy is stopping them from receiving this attention, despite the best efforts of hard working doctors and nurses.”
Based on a survey of the thousands of homeless people St Mungos’ works with, the report outlines the scale of the homeless health challenge:
• 32% of homeless people have an alcohol dependency
• 63% have a drugs problem
• 49% have a mental illness
• 43% have a physical illness
83% of the homeless people St Mungo’s work with have a least one of these conditions, with many suffering from a variety at any one time.
Most alarming of all, St Mungo’s have found that a third of homeless people with these conditions are receiving no medical care at all.
The experiences of some of the homeless people St Mungo’s regularly encounters powerfully illustrate the problems caused by these failures. These include:
• “Eddie” an underweight elderly male suffering from schizophrenia and TB. The chest pains he suffers from have been exacerbated by misuse of alcohol and smoking, but also by a lack of regular TB treatment. He initially accessed treatment but became pressured with the routine, felt he was fine and no longer attended appointments. This resulted in MDR – multi-drug resistance caused by non-compliance of treatment or heavy drinking. Due to the constant chest pains he often finds it difficult to walk across his own room, let alone down the road to the mental health services he requires.
• “Susan”, a 33 year old former civil servant became homeless following job loss and eviction caused by a series of personal traumas. Already suffering from chronic asthma and problems with drink and drugs, which worsened when Susan became homeless, she now suffers from ‘brittle asthma’, and must carry a nebuliser with her everywhere, which she takes six times each day. Susan has also suffered from a hernia, the loss of mobility in her left hand, and an ongoing neck injury. She consistently struggled to access the health services she needed while she was homeless, often finding resistance from paramedics and A&E staff because of her background.
Peter Cockersell said:
“There seems to be no recognition that homeless people have unique health problems, making it hard for them to get the treatment they need. Each condition requires a trip to a different department.
“When you also consider the difficult lifestyles homeless people have to live, accessing treatment becomes almost impossible. This means that long term problems are allowed to get worse, with hard pushed Accident and Emergency Units having to cope with the consequences.”
Alongside the report, St Mungo’s is publishing a strategy to guide policy makers in meeting the health needs of homeless people.
The strategy calls for policy makers and health service commissioners to recognise homeless people as a specific priority group with policies devised and services commissioned accordingly, much as people with dual diagnosis are recognised as a priority group with special needs.
In practice this means policies and resources which allow for:
• Dedicated ‘case managers’ for homeless people, to guide them through healthcare services and departments
• GPs and nurses to proactively visit homeless hostels to assess healthcare needs and direct homeless people to appropriate services
• Health service commissioners to work together with homelessness organisations like St Mungo’s in establishing homelessness hostels tailored to meet healthcare needs, and hostel staff trained to offer long term health care and support
The St Mungo’s strategy outlines how the charity will lead by example, with plans to help meet healthcare needs of homeless people across London. This includes piloting the provision of primary care services in three hostels and plans to establish the first hostel dedicated to healthcare.
Peter Cockersell added:
“St Mungo’s healthcare strategy shows what can be done, but action is needed at a policy level to deal with the healthcare problems of homelessness on a wide scale. By recognising this, the Government will not only help ease the suffering of so many homeless people, but also free healthcare workers from the pressures of dealing with it.”
For more information, including further case studies and interview requests, contact:
020 7089 2089
07952 286 223
St Mungo’s Press Office
020 8762 5645
Notes for Editors:
St Mungo’s is London’s largest charity for homeless people. We work 365 days a year to provide emergency help, and run over 100 projects and services that house and support homeless people’s recovery and prevent rough sleeping. Every year we help thousands of people to make permanent life changes.
The report ‘Homelessness: it makes you sick’ has been written for St Mungo’s by Helen Bilton, MA, MSc, an independent information professional.
St Mungo’s Health Action Week: Homelessness, it makes you sick
The week will highlight the failings in health care provision for homeless people, and will include the publication of a new report from St Mungo’s: ‘Health Strategy for Homeless People’, including stark facts on homeless people’s health conditions and recommendations on health policy. The week kicks off with a fundraising walk across London’s bridges on Sunday 7th September, followed by events and activity throughout the week.
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