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Urgent winter plan is needed to give homeless access to NHS care

The lack of NHS care for the homeless needs to be addressed in time for winter.

Image: Garry Knight

The lack of NHS care for homeless and rough sleepers must be addressed in time for the hardest winter months.

Writing in The Big Issue, Janet Davies calls for an urgent plan from ministers and the NHS to encourage people without a fixed address to register with a GP surgery. Too many do not have their health concerns addressed and are repeatedly admitted to A&E at ‘crisis point’, she adds.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Chief Executive and General Secretary calls on ministers to “pull out all the stops” to prevent people being discharged from mental health hospitals back onto the streets. In a piece to launch a partnership with the charity, she calls for investment in specialist mental health care for homelessness people after services saw funding cuts.

Davies says that too many homeless people mistakenly believe that proof of address is required to join a doctor’s surgery and highlights a scheme by London’s NHS to raise awareness through cards at shelters and food banks. Emergency admissions to A&E occur at least four times more often for somebody who is homeless than the rest of the population.

From this month, the RCN becomes an official partner of The Big Issue in a three-year arrangement that includes sole sponsorship of the iconic red tabards worn by vendors.

Janet Davies also calls for improved training for nursing staff and NHS professionals on the causes and consequences of homelessness and where wider support can be found in order to make the most from every encounter.

In the article, Davies writes:

“Winter is fast approaching and the four Governments of the UK and their NHS must agree a rapid plan to make routine care and treatment more easily available during these harsh months. They must redouble efforts to let those without a fixed address know that GPs are able to make exceptions and make sure surgeries are left in no doubt.

“The barriers to accessing healthcare – getting through the door of the NHS in some form – must not be underestimated. And these obstacles can mean health problems remain untreated until somebody reaches crisis point, with a cycle of repeated A&E visits and overnight stays that fail to deal with underlying issues.

“Rough sleeping makes it harder to access longer-term health support too such as mental health services. Specialist homelessness mental health teams have been subject to major funding cuts and even disappeared entirely while other services struggle to support people who face multiple complex problems. For others, not having a GP means there is nobody to make the necessary specialist referral.

“Ministers should pull out all the stops to make sure people being discharged from mental health hospital have a real alternative to the street.

“A nurse’s role focuses on maximising potential and enabling independence – which is why we believe supporting the work of The Big Issue is so relevant for us. Nursing staff are ready to play a part in making this winter and the year that follows it a much-needed moment of change.”