Twice as likely to be ill if homeless

Wednesday, 9 July 2014 - 12:01am

Research published today shows that the proportion of homeless people in England reporting some form of physical and mental health problem is at least double that of the general population, and many are not getting the right help. 

Charity calls on NHS to provide health MOT to anyone who is homeless.

Umbrella body, Homeless Link, is calling for a full health assessment for anyone identified as homeless and appropriate treatment for their physical and mental health needs.

Using data from more than 2,500 homeless people, The Unhealthy State of Homelessness reveals that over 7 in 10 homeless people suffer from one or more physical health problem, and an even higher proportion report having a mental health issue.

Analysis indicates that many of these issues are severe in nature and occur at levels far higher than the general population:

  • 41% of respondents reported having a long-term physical health problem (28% amongst the general population);
  • 45% had been diagnosed with a mental health condition (25%);
  • 36% had taken drugs in the past month (5%).

The proportions of some long-term conditions are even higher: Reported incidences of stomach conditions is five times higher in the homeless population, and diagnosis of depression is more than 10 times higher.

The research indicates that living in dangerous conditions, such as in squats or on the streets, is likely to make existing problems worse. People experiencing homelessness are also much more likely to suffer from the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle:

  • 35% do not eat at least two meals a day;
  • Two-thirds consume more than the recommended limit of alcohol each time they drink;
  • 77% smoke.

Despite these high rates, over 15% of respondents with physical health needs reported not receiving help, whilst 17.5% of those with mental health issues and 16.7% with alcohol issues would like support but are not receiving it. In addition, 7% have been denied access to a dentist or GP.

The high health needs of homeless people has a major cost impact on the NHS, as they are heavy users of acute and primary care services. Research indicates that homeless people are four times more likely to seek help from acute NHS services, for example A&E, than the general population, a situation which the Government estimates to cost around £85m per year.

The report calls for sustained action to improve the way we tackle homelessness and poor health. Amongst a number of recommendations, Homeless Link is calling for anyone who becomes homeless to be offered a full health check by the NHS and for health and homelessness services to work together in providing care.

Rick Henderson, Homeless Link’s Chief Executive, commented:

“The link between not having a home and experiencing illness is clear, and homelessness must be recognised as a public health issue across the health system. This means working in partnership with charities to better identify an individual’s housing situation and taking action early to prevent health problems getting worse.

“We know that when this happens, significant improvements can be made to people’s well-being, as well as reducing the impact on the public purse. We are calling for the political and financial backing to ensure this continues.” 

The unhealthy state of homelessness: Health audit results 2014

The unhealthy state of homelessness report explores the health and wellbeing of homeless people in England and the support that is available to them. 

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Stephen Holland

Stephen served as our Communications Officer until January 2016.

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