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Investigation reveals rise in homeless people visiting emergency departments

PUBLISHED: 07:30 22 January 2019 | UPDATED: 07:57 22 January 2019

The number of homeless people visiting A&E at Colchester Hospital has risen sharply over the past six years Picture: GREGG BROWN

The number of homeless people visiting A&E at Colchester Hospital has risen sharply over the past six years Picture: GREGG BROWN

The number of homeless people visiting A&E departments in Bury St Edmunds and Colchester has increased considerably in the past six years, an investigation has revealed.

Recorded visits to A&E at Colchester Hospital from patients classed as having no fixed abode rose from 152 in 2013/14 to 286 last year.

The figures, from the British Medical Association (BMA), also showed the number of admissions from A&E to hospital wards at the Essex hospital went up from 61 to 73 over the past six years.

A 55% rise in the number of homeless people visiting A&E was recorded at West Suffolk Hospital, with 178 people attending last year compared with 116 in 2013/14.

Hospital admissions from the emergency department at the Bury St Edmunds hospital also went up – from 43 in 2013/14 to 61 in 2018.

The numbers also increased at West Suffolk Hospital  Picture: GREGG BROWNThe numbers also increased at West Suffolk Hospital Picture: GREGG BROWN

It was a different story in Ipswich, where the number of homeless people visiting A&E at the town’s hospital fell from 595 in 2014/15 to 426 in 2017/18.

The number of hospital admissions from A&E visits at Ipswich also declined from 536 to 362 over the same timeframe.

Nationally, the number of visits to A&E departments at hospitals in England from homeless people more than trebled from 11,305 in 2011 to almost 32,000 last year.

Admissions from emergency departments to hospital wards nationally also rocketed – from 3,378 in 2011 to 9,282 in 2018.

Dr Peter English, BMA public health medicine committee chairman, 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 the 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 investigation also explored the link between homelessness and mental health and found that cuts to substance and addiction services, lack of mental health provision, inaccessibility of GP services, and the rising prominence of new psychoactive substances such as mamba or spice are all contributing to the growing crisis.

Dr Andrew Molodynski, BMA mental health policy lead, 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.

Bucking the national trend, numbers decreased at Ipswich Hospital Picture: PHIL MORLEYBucking the national trend, numbers decreased at Ipswich Hospital Picture: PHIL MORLEY

“Without a home, it becomes even more difficult for people to seek treatment for their condition, many of whom have multiple and complex needs. They are ultimately sentenced to a life on the fringes of society without ever receiving the care they need.

“Failure in access and the provision of mental health care, starting from child and adolescent services, means that all too often vulnerable young people and adults, some of whom do not have a support network, are at risk of ending up on the streets.

“The Government must do more to end this tragic cycle. As well as addressing the current shortcomings in the provision of mental health care, there must be a wider approach that looks at prevention and the wider societal issues at play. Society is failing to protect far too many vulnerable individuals and that must change.”

A Government spokesman said: “We’re committed to ensuring people have a roof over their heads and access to the right health services.

“We expect local authorities to work closely with CCGs to commission services for everyone — and have introduced legislation to make sure they prioritise homeless people.

“We’re investing £1.2billion to tackle all forms of homelessness and our rough sleeping strategy, backed by £100m, will provide support to help people off the streets and into homes.

“The long term plan for the NHS also committed to spending up to £30million extra over five years to meet the health needs of rough sleepers.”

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