The theme for World Health Day 2021 as determined by the World Health Organisation, is to build a fairer and healthier world. Essentially we live in a world where some have easier access to healthcare than others. We wanted to take this day to help raise awareness of inequalities in the health care system for the homelessness community and how we collectively can help improve this.
Homelessness is no doubt one of the most challenging state of living one can be in and therefore it can have a negative impact on a person’s mental and physical health. According to the Health Needs Audit by Homeless Link, 78% of the respondents from their nation-wide study reported a physical health problem and 86% reported a mental health difficulty. The truth is that there are many barriers to getting the right health services for the homeless community. Some issues that have been expressed are as follows:
- Discrimination or refusal of access to mainstream primary care services
- Denied registration at a GP due to the lack of a fixed address
- Moved away from the area of their registered GP therefore making it difficult to return
- Discharged from emergency services or hospitals without any clear aftercare support or follow up treatments
- Financial barriers (that could cover transportation fees or phone bills)
- Long waiting times for mental health support and treatments
- Lack of clear communication with health care professionals
As such, most people end up using the A&E services instead of a GP because it’s easier to access, hence why studies show that those who are homeless go to the A&E four times more than the general population (Groundswell, 2020), making it an extremely costly and ineffective way of offering health care support. We are in the middle of a pandemic and now more than ever, the homeless community needs the right healthcare support. In 2020 alone, there was a 37% increase in the number of homeless deaths (Museum of Homelessness) - an alarming situation which could’ve been prevented if there were health services made available.
What is being done about this?
We’re very thrilled to find out that Groundswell is leading a a UK based nationwide campaign called #HealthNow (in partnership with other charities like Crisis and Shelter), to help create an inclusive healthcare system for the homelessness community. This will not only give people the right health care they need but also help them be in the right condition to get themselves out of the state of being homeless.
Groundswell has also been running a Homeless Health Peer Advocacy (HHPA) program, where volunteers who have also formerly experienced homelessness themselves help individuals to build confidence and overcome the barriers they normally face when trying to access healthcare such as covering transportation fees, supporting their clients in attending appointments, communication and follow-up checkups if needed. For every £1 put into the HHPA, it could save the NHS £2.43 in unplanned care activity costs (such as A&E) (Groundswell Saving Lives, Saving Money, 2020)
How can we help?
We always say that a great way you can help someone experiencing homelessness is to give a bit of your time to listen to their needs and see how you can actually help. If they are in need of medical support, then you can refer them to the following places*:
*These are not emergency services, if someone needs urgent care then please call 999.
Another way you can help is to urge your local GP clinics and healthcare organisations to recognise the inequalities of health services for homelessness communities and to make a change in their policies (if they haven’t done so already) which could really help contribute to reducing and even preventing homelessness.
Additionally, you could just help by spreading more awareness and being a bit more mindful of the difficulties that people experiencing homelessness face and give support in any small or big way you can!