Emergency services face growing load from homeless patients, says doctors’ research

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Local NHS trusts have reported rising cases of homeless patients

LOCAL NHS services are facing growing cases of homeless people coming for emergency treatment, according to figures from the BMA doctors union.

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South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS), which also includes Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, experienced a more than fivefold increase in cases linked to homelessness, growing from 54 in 2014 to 339 in 2018.

Statistics for the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals Trust showed that over the same period, there was a nearly 12% rise in annual homeless A&E admissions from 127 to 142.

The numbers were revealed in an investigation by the BMA, although not all NHS trusts responded to its request for data.

The BMA said that since 2011 there had been a trebling nationally of A&E visits by patients recorded as having no fixed abode – rising from 11,305 to almost 32,000 last year.

Dr Peter English, chair of the BMA’s public health medicine committee, said: “If this was some disease causing all these problems, it would be a much higher priority but because victims can be blamed and stigmatised, it is easy for government to ignore.

“The growing numbers of rough sleepers and vulnerably housed people in our society is a continuing tragedy. To stand by silently as our NHS faces increasing strain and our society becomes increasingly unequal would be unacceptable.”

The rise in homeless cases was in line with A&E admissions generally, commented BJ Waltho, associate director of operations at the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

“Our biggest challenge when treating homeless patients is they often don’t attend follow-up appointments,” he said, so the hospital makes up takeaway packs of dressings, sterile water and leaflets, as well as a change of clothes. A health bus visits the town centre every Thursday too.

A SCAS spokesperson told the A&T the extra 339 homeless 999 patients only made up a small proportion of its annual total 540,000 people, and had “little, if any, impact”.

The BMA report said vulnerable people were being “failed by the system” and, to make matters worse, homeless patients are suffering increasingly complex physical and mental health conditions.

It said figures for homeless people attending A&E and hospital admissions represented a bill to the NHS of an estimated £47m over eight years, and it described a “growing crisis” in mental health on the streets.

BMA mental health policy lead, Dr Andrew Molodynski, said: “There is a considerable link between homelessness and mental health as sadly, homelessness can be both a cause and consequence of having poor mental health.”

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