New report reveals the health care experiences of Essex homeless

Our latest research study has exposed the challenges facing homeless people in accessing health care services.

“Homelessness is a growing problem, with around 3,000 people across the county homeless or lacking a permanent place to live,” said Dr David Sollis, Chief Executive of Healthwatch Essex. “Accordingly, we felt it was time to speak to some of those people to understand the issues they face when it comes to their health and wellbeing.”

Homeless people are generally more likely to experience poor health and die younger and their interactions with health care services and professionals are often problematic. The study involved 22 individuals who were in contact with homelessness services via the CHESS homeless charity in Chelmsford and Beacon House Ministries in Colchester.

They were asked about their views and experiences of interacting with mainstream health care services, recording their contact over a six-month period. Whereas the majority of participants reported that it was easy to access services for physical health problems, a large proportion reported difficulties with accessing mental health care. A few participants reported that they had not received any mental health care despite experiencing serious issues.

Health care professionals who were non-judgemental and able to offer practical advice were valued, as was the ability to see the same GP, albeit that was seldom possible. Continuity of care was also problematic, particularly for people who moved across different levels (e.g. from GP to specialist care) and locations (from prison to community care).

“The report makes a number of recommendations to help healthcare professionals, service providers and NHS commissioners design services to make them more accessible to homeless individuals,” explained David. “For GPs, these include acknowledging concerns by explaining any actions that they intend to make and talking through how the individual is likely to experience personal and social problems that could have a negative impact on their physical, mental and psychological well-being.”

Recommendations for NHS commissioners and service providers included supporting and promoting the delivery of flexible services for homeless individuals around opening hours, the length of clinical consultations and considering creating GP placements within homelessness services to facilitate access.

Read the report now.