Homeless 60 times more likely to visit A&E

A University of Birmingham study has revealed that homeless people in England are 60 times more likely to visit A&E in a year than the general population.

The research, which reveals the extent of health problems among those who sleep rough or are stuck in temporary accommodation, also shows that the proportion of homeless people with more than one health problem is far greater than would be expected given their average age of 38. The figure of about one in five is on a par with people in their 60s in the general population.

Researchers analysed routinely collected datasets from almost 1,000 patients registered to Birmingham Homeless Healthcare Centre in Birmingham city centre. The study found that nearly one in eight had been offered support for substance dependence and one in five had been offered support for alcohol misuse. A high prevalence of infectious hepatitis C was also identified.

Published in the British Journal of General Practice, the study’s authors say that retention in long-term treatment of hepatitis C infection is greater when treatment of substance dependence is offered simultaneously. Such multi-disciplinary approach can effectively prevent disease and harm from risky behaviours, improve health outcomes and reduce demand on A&E departments.

Dr Vibhu Paudyal, of the University of Birmingham’s School of Pharmacy, said: “This study reinforces the need to further expand and diversify specialist services available to the homeless population, particularly preventative services. Further work needs to be done to minimise fragmentation of services and to improve access and experiences around homeless use of mainstream general practices.

“Our previous research has shown that patients highly value the specialist and dedicated services that exist for homeless people such as the one in Birmingham city centre. Ill health can be both the cause and consequences of homelessness. Hence, early and opportunistic prevention and treatment of mental health, substance and alcohol dependence can prevent ill health and, for many, the repeat cycle of homelessness. These services should be readily accessible and where possible to be offered under one roof as many of these conditions are co-prevalent.”

Shelter estimates that there are over 320,000 homeless people in the UK, and the number continues to rise.