Doctors’ crisis alert as toll of homeless using A&E rockets
THE number of homeless people seeking emergency care has more than tripled in eight years, say doctors.
They warn of a “homelessness health crisis” as hospitals cope with rocketing demand.
More than 36,000 people of no fixed abode attended casualty wards in England in the 12 months to April.
This was up from 11,305 in 2010-11, according to the British Medical Association.
Its spokesman Dr Simon Walsh said the number was the tip of the iceberg.
He said: “These figures are soul-destroying and show the needs of homeless people continue to be ignored and the impact on hospitals is not understood.
“That being said, it will, sadly, not come as a surprise to many doctors who see the harsh reality of homelessness in emergency departments every day.”
Membership magazine The Doctor obtained the data from 98 hospital trusts.
The number of homeless patients admitted also soared during the period – at least 11,986 compared with 3,378 in 2010-11.
Dr Walsh said more resources were needed to ensure vulnerable people got specialist care.
He added: “In recent years community services have become radically overstretched, meaning more homeless people are overlooked or left to fend for themselves. “When they are ill or in need, emergency departments become the net to catch them.”
Homeless people accounted for more than 16,000 “bed days” last year. Hundreds spent long periods on wards and 49 trusts reported that such patients had been in hospital for more than three weeks.
At Oxleas NHS Foundation trust in south-east London, 14 patients stayed for a total of 1,617 days. A patient at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust stayed 462 days.
Dr Christopher Sargeant, a GP at a practice for the homeless in Brighton, said: “Homeless patients can often seem invisible, or be someone else’s problem but their needs are just as important. “I have seen the enormous difference that joinedup working and effective co-ordination of services has had locally.
“However, services such as help with mental health, overcoming drug and alcohol dependence and housing have been cut. It means increasing numbers going to a surgery and with increasingly complex needs.”
Alex Bax, of homeless healthcare charity Pathway, said: “Homeless patients face the very worst health inequalities in our society.”
A woman living under a flyover in Manchester is carried on a stretcher to an ambulance
Dr Simon Walsh says A&E is a net for vulnerable