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17-04-2012 | Article

Homeless need better access to care


NHS Confederation – Mental Health and Homelessness

MedWire News: The NHS needs to do more to enable the homeless population to access healthcare, according to mental health experts whose report highlights that many homeless people are unable to register with a GP.

The NHS Confederation says that homeless people are 40 times more likely not to be registered with a GP than the rest of the population.

This relates to the high prevalence of mental health problems and alcohol and drug dependency among homeless people. Social and lifestyle issues can mean they find it difficult to book and keep appointments, and often avoid seeking help until health problems become critical and require urgent or emergency care.

But problems such as being unable to provide proof of address and the stigma associated with their situation - whether real or perceived - are also barriers to them accessing primary care.

The report urges CCGs and Health and Wellbeing Boards to address key questions regarding the care of homeless people in their populations, and highlights projects that have been successful in integrating mental health and primary care for homeless populations such as the Cambridge Access Surgery. As well as providing routine primary care, the surgery holds drop-in sessions for drug users, specialised mental health support and alcohol dependency counselling, and works closely with a mental health outreach team.

Lead GP Dr Ruth Bastable explained the importance of managing dual diagnosis: "All issues have to be addressed at once, and that requires good multi-agency working."

NHS Confederation Mental Health Network director Steve Shrubb said: "As leaders in mental health, we have to recognise that the way we support homeless people has to improve. We must up our game."

He added: "This report provides the questions NHS leaders need to be asking themselves to make sure homeless people get the priority they need."

MedWire News is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Caroline Price