Three common issues homeless people face when trying to access care

With thousands of people at risk of homelessness this winter, we look at the common issues people who do not have a place to call home tell us they can face when it comes to health and care.
Lonely person

On any one night in England, over 4,700 people are estimated to be sleeping rough on our streets.

Not having a permanent place to call home can have a significant impact on both your physical and mental health, particularly if you are sleeping rough in winter.

It’s vital that those experiencing homelessness not only get help with accommodation but are also able to access the health and care they need.

Why does everything have to be about accommodation? Full-time job? Help with mental health? Can’t get that because I’m not in full time accommodation, I can’t get accommodation because I’m not in a full-time job. It is always back and forth. And I’ve got to the point where I’m like, what’s the point?
— Patient story, Healthwatch West Berkshire

Local Healthwatch across England have spoken to over 1,200 people experiencing homelessness - including those who are sofa surfing with friends or family, and those in temporary accommodation, such as hostels.

We have shared what people have told us with NHS England to help inform the NHS Long Term Plan.   

Three issues people face when trying to get healthcare support:

1. Difficulty accessing services

Many people can’t get access to services in the first place. This can happen because they don’t have an address or suitable identification, or because they don’t have enough phone credit to make an appointment. It can also be difficult for people who are homeless to attend appointments or stick to health advice.

2. Difficulty registering with GP services

Some GP surgeries will not allow people to register with them if they don’t have a fixed address, despite the fact that an address is not legally required to become a patient. We’ve heard from at least five areas in England about GP practices which are turning people away, and the huge impact this has on people in need of healthcare support.

3. Difficulty getting holistic support

Healthwatch heard that people don’t feel their circumstances are understood by medical professionals, so they don’t get the full level of support they need. People want holistic support with their health, housing and employment all in one place.

Help homeless people access the right support

Do you work for a health or social care service? Read our advice on how you can help homeless people overcome the barriers that they currently face getting the right support.

Read more

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