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70% of homeless hospital patients 'discharged onto the street'

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70% of homeless hospital patients 'discharged onto the street'

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Health

70% of homeless hospital patients discharged onto the street 70% of homeless hospital patients discharged onto the street

Hospitals discharge more than 70% of homeless patients straight back onto the streets, which is damaging their health and costing the NHS money, a report revealed today.

Research by Homeless Link and St Mungo’s has found that hospital staff can improve the health prospects of homeless people and save the NHS money by ensuring that all patients are discharged into appropriate accommodation.

The dedicated homelessness team at University College Hospital (UCH) in London were named as an example of best practice in the report, which comes from an in-depth study of 85 homeless people, hospitals, local authorities and homelessness agencies.

Matt Harrison, Interim Chief Executive of Homeless Link, said: “The homeless sector has been working to improve the health outcomes for homeless people for years, yet they still experience some of the poorest health in our communities.

“The findings from this report are extremely disappointing. Failing to meet homeless people’s health and housing needs is costly to individuals, but also to the NHS as life on the streets means they continue to be readmitted to hospital.

“No one should be discharged from hospital to insecure or inappropriate accommodation. We call on all agencies to take a step to end homelessness by ensuring everyone has somewhere suitable to go when they leave hospital, with support in place for their on-going medical care.”

Some homeless patients who took part in the study reported having a more positive experience. Many of these were at hospitals with dedicated homelessness teams, such as Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral and the UCH.

Improving Hospital Admission and Discharge for People who are Homeless is a guide for hospitals on the treatment of homeless patients. Best practice advice for hospital staff includes: 

  • NHS hospitals must identify people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless: frontline staff need to ask the right questions to find out if a patient is homeless or at risk of homelessness.
  • NHS staff should involve key partners immediately, e.g. hostels, outreach teams, local authority housing teams: Every ward should have access to the homeless persons’ database and a list of up-to-date local homelessness agencies, and should notify these contacts when they admit someone who is homeless to avoid them losing their tenancy.
  • Local authorities, NHS and the voluntary must sector must work together: finding appropriate housing for homeless people will reduce readmissions to A&E, improve patient experience and save the NHS money.

Charles Fraser, CEO of St Mungo’s and a member of the National Inclusion Health Board, said: “It is crucial that the NHS does not lose sight of its responsibilities towards those in the most parlous circumstances. This report must not only prod its conscience, but stir it into action.

“The hospital sector has to improve, and improve quickly, but we must not lose sight of the fact that better facilities in the community will help hospitals get their discharge practices right. There are examples of what can be done, and proposals for what else needs to be done, and the funding and commissioning system must support and enable them.

“The excessive and disproportionate ill-health of homeless people should be a source of shame. This issue must not be left solely to the discretion of local commissioners, but must be a specific priority for the NHS Commissioning Board and for Public Health England in how they tackle health inequalities.

“We at St Mungo’s are very pleased that the Minister, Paul Burstow, is able to attend the launch of the report, and we look forward to working closely with him and his officials in implementing its recommendations.”

Joe Farrington-Douglas, Head of Public Policy for the British Red Cross, said: "The whole health and social care system needs to be better geared up to support all aspects of an individual's journey through care. We've been faced with people discharged from hospital with nowhere to sleep but a garden shed. It's crucial that a more holistic view is taken. And that will both help patients and save taxpayers money."

Next month the British Red Cross will release research underlining the case for greater investment in prevention services including discharge support, many of which are currently at risk from cuts to social care budgets. This includes a cost benefits analysis demonstrating the potential for such support to save the NHS money.

Farrington-Douglas added: "We help thousands of vulnerable people from across the UK back on their feet following discharge from hospital. That includes patients with severe housing needs as well as disabled and elderly people. For anyone coming out of a stay in hospital, things are tough. But the more vulnerable a person is, the greater the risk of a rapid decline into further spells of ill health and further stays in hospital.”

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