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Upfront: Taking a stand

May 04 2015
A high-profile campaign aims to tackle the health inequality faced by homeless people

A campaign by a leading homeless charity has called for people to take a stand and demand action on the poor healthcare offered to homeless people.

St Mungo’s Broadway’s Homeless Health Matters campaign is urging the chairs of all 152 Health and Wellbeing Boards in England to take action to tackle the ill health of homeless people in their area and to sign up to their Charter for Homeless Health. So far, just 28 boards have signed up, including Birmingham, Bristol and several London boroughs.

The Charter demands health boards get better at identifying the needs of people who are homeless, provide leadership for other services in tackling homeless health and make health care more accessible.

Jennean Alkadiri, campaigns manager for St Mungo’s Broadway, said: “We hope this World Health Day event made people show their solidarity by asking their Health and Wellbeing Board to sign our Charter for Homeless Health.”

Almost three-quarters of homeless people suffer from a physical health condition, yet some still struggle to register with a GP because they do not have a permanent address.

Life expectancy for a man sleeping rough is 47, while for a woman it’s just 43. This is compared to 75 for the average male and 82 for the average female.

Birmingham is the latest health board to sign the charter. The city’s cabinet member for health and wellbeing, Cllr John Cotton, said health organisations would work with the council, as well as the voluntary and community sector to affect change. He added: “We are all showing a determination to work together to help improve the lives and health of some of Birmingham’s most vulnerable people.”

Birmingham Public Health has developed a homeless health needs audit which asks homeless people about their health, lifestyle and use of healthcare services in Birmingham. The data will be used to better plan and provide healthcare services for homeless people across the city.

St Mungo’s Broadway is planning to keep up the pressure with a social media campaign planned to influence on other health boards.

Need to know: health

So what’s the issue?

Homeless people are more likely to have poor physical and mental health. In 2014, Homeless Link published new national data: 73 per cent of homeless people reported physical health problems, eight out of 10 had a mental health issue and 35 per cent had been to A&E over the past six months.

Those with experience of homelessness are also more likely to have unhealthy lifestyles: more than three-quarters of homeless people smoke, 35 per cent do not eat at least two meals a day, and two-thirds consume more than the recommended amount of alcohol each time they drink.

Rough sleepers are also at risk of TB: London is now the TB capital of Europe. Sleeping rough can often mask the symptoms and there are problems accessing hospital-based services and completing a minimum of six months daily drug treatment.

How easy is it to get help?

A significant number of homeless people report that they are not receiving help with their health problems. Over 15 per cent of respondents with physical health problems were not receiving support, while 17.5 per cent of those with mental health issues and 16.5 per cent with alcohol issues would like support but are not receiving it.

What should you do?

All homeless people are entitled to register with a GP: you can do this using a temporary address, such as a friend’s place or a day centre. You can find a doctor in your area through NHS Choices or by calling the NHS helpline on 111. There are also specialist medical centres for people who are homeless or sleeping rough.

If you want to be screened for TB, there is a mobile Find & Treat service in London. TB is curable in virtually all cases; the important thing is to find it early and to complete treatment. For enquiries, call 020 3447 9842.

And on a positive note?

At least, there has been progress in the last few years: according to the latest data, 36 per cent of homeless people admitted to hospital report being discharged onto the streets with nowhere to go. In 2010, this issue was reported by 73 per cent of respondents admitted to hospital.

Do you know of a health service that should be listed in The Pavement? Let us know: val@thepavement.org.uk

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