Homeless people are being ‘denied basic health care’

Homeless people in Birmingham are routinely being refused access to basic NHS services, according to research by the University of Birmingham.

Researchers interviewed 22 homeless people aged over 18 at three Midland homeless shelters in order to gauge their experience of accessing NHS services following anecdotal reports that the homeless were being denied access and faced negative experiences.

Some of the study participants described facing no barriers to access but others reported accounts of casual neglect, discrimination, and inadequate resources across general practice, accident and emergency departments, and mental health services.

Some also reported being denied registration at a GP, while others said they were discharged from hospital onto the streets with no access or referral to primary care providers, and others said they could not access services providing support to those with substance misuse issues and mental health problems.

One participant described resorting to committing crimes so that they would be sent to prison where they could then access healthcare.

However, those that did access services at specialist primary healthcare centres expressed high satisfaction about their experiences.

The study was published in the British Journal of General Practice.

Senior Lecturer Dr Vibhu Paudyal, of the University of Birmingham’s School of Pharmacy, 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.

‘Our study participants found access to mental health and substance misuse services often challenging as many have dual diagnoses.

‘While specialist healthcare services that are established across the country offer these patients some comfort, exclusion from healthcare pushed some of our 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.’

A separate report published by the University of Birmingham earlier this month found that nearly one in three homeless people in the West Midlands attended an A&E department in the last 12 months, which is 60 times higher than a non-homeless person.

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