Homeless people face casual neglect, discrimination, and inadequate resources when it comes to accessing NHS care, according to a new analysis.
In the first study of its kind, research carried out by the University of Birmingham, England, has found that homeless people encounter huge barriers when registering with a general practice, getting an appointment with a GP or nurse, finding appropriate treatment for mental health and addiction problems, or being adequately signposted to specialist homeless services.
Many of the homeless people described getting access to mental health and substance misuse services as “challenging”, according to the report, published in today’s edition of the British Journal of General Practice. The researchers studied outcomes for nearly 1,000 patients at a homeless healthcare centre. They found that 20% had been offered support for alcohol misuse and about 12% had been offered support for substance dependence. About a third had visited an emergency department in the previous year.
Dr Vibhu Paudyal, senior lecturer in clinical pharmacy at the University of Birmingham, said: “Stories of homeless people being denied access to mainstream GP services were so far anecdotal, which our study sadly validates as the truth.
“Perceived stigma and discrimination in healthcare settings seems to be even more persistent and shows how much work needs to be done to make primary care more inclusive for homeless people.”
He added that while specialist healthcare services across the country offer these patients some comfort, exclusion from healthcare pushed some of the study participants into repeat cycles of homelessness.
“Improving access and inclusivity and prevention work particularly during an earlier stage in the homelessness cycle is the only way forward to alleviate the health impact of homelessness, its repeat cycle, and thereby to minimise homeless people’s use of emergency department admissions and prevent unnecessary deaths,” he said.