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Hospitals failing homeless

May 04 2015
Healthwatch’s special enquiry reveals shocking cases of unsafe discharge

More compassionate health professionals who understand what it’s like to be homeless, a named point of contact, early assessment of housing needs while still in hospital, follow-up on discharge, and a ‘welcome home pack’ including fresh clothing, footwear, food, electricity and medication.

These are just some of the expected early recommendations from Healthwatch’s special enquiry to help homeless people being discharged from hospital.

The special inquiry by Healthwatch UK has focussed on homeless people, those with mental health conditions and older people who have been sent home from hospitals, care homes and mental health units.

It was launched last summer to shine a light on how badly things can go wrong after vulnerable people – including rough sleepers – were discharged from health and social care institutions.

The ‘people’s inquiry’, led by experts with lived experience of homelessness, including former rough sleeper Paul Wilson, is understood to have found a huge number of shocking cases including that of a heroin addict with an abscess in his groin, discharged back on the street six times. When paramedics finally came, they said he would have died within hours without treatment.

In another case, a homeless young man with severe mental health problems, taken to hospital after threatening suicide, was discharged on a cold night without a coat, money or food.

One woman whom the team spoke to had been in hospital 10 times in the last 18 months. She recounted a recent visit to the hospital suffering from severe alcohol withdrawal while sleeping rough. She was discharged at 3am on a cold, rainy night without as much as a blanket.

Most of the interviewees said that they felt that they were stigmatised as a result of their homelessness, with staff trying to move them out of the hospital as quickly as possible. They were often forced to try and recover on the streets.

Their stories, along with full recommendations are due to be published by Healthwatch after the election. It is understood that the organisation is hoping that it’s findings will prove that despite some improvements in flagship hospitals such as Guy’s Hospital in London, homeless people are still getting a very raw deal.

Launching the inquiry last year, Anna Bradley, chair of Healthwatch England, said: "Sadly, it’s when people fall through the gaps between the different health and social care services that serious problems occur, leading to unnecessary suffering."

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