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Health Matters - Homelessness & Healthcare

Health Matters - Homelessness & Healthcare
03 October 2018

Dr Paul Bowen, clinical chair of NHS Eastern Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group, and GP with McIlvride Medical Practice, Poynton.

As the nights draw in and the temperature drops, the thoughts of many care providers turn to the plight of the homeless. Having no permanent address is bad for people’s health at any time but is particularly detrimental in the winter – especially for people sleeping rough.

It’s a stark fact that homeless people have a life expectancy of around 50 and are likely to die up to 30 years younger than the national average. The homeless are nine times more likely to take their own life, three times more likely to die from falls or traffic accidents, and twice as likely to die from infections.

Fortunately, the Cheshire East local authority area has much lower levels of homelessness than most places. For example, Cheshire East Council counted 137 people as rough sleepers in 2017-18. Most of these were new to the street or had slept rough for five days or less. During the same period, 22 people spent at least one night in Winter Hope Accommodation, a weekend shelter run by the churches of Macclesfield. The shelter recorded 104 nights of accommodation in total.

While these figures are comparatively low, it’s worrying that the number of homeless people in Cheshire East rose by 31 per cent between 2014 and 2016 to a total of 308 people.

And that’s why health and social care providers are working hard to help the homeless while councils strive to tackle the causes of homelessness.

The NHS provides dental services, vision care and alcohol dependency support for homeless people while the area’s GP practices provide a wide range of care to vulnerable people including the homeless. In fact, the Care Quality Commission has saluted Eastern Cheshire’s general practice for tailoring services to deliver consistent quality of care.

All homeless people are entitled to register with a GP practice, and it’s encouraging that more than 90 per cent have done so.

Meanwhile, the council has published a homelessness strategy which has resulted in the setting up of a single point of access for advice on tackling contributory factors such as debt, mental health issues and relationship problems. The council has worked with the private rented housing sector to increase the availability of accommodation for the homeless, and it
has used planning law to secure a bigger percentage of affordable homes in new housing developments.

In addition, the council and East Cheshire NHS Trust have met the challenges of the Homelessness Reduction Act by putting processes in place to ensure homeless people have somewhere to go before they are discharged from Macclesfield Hospital.

For more information on what the NHS can do to help, visit and search for “services for homeless people.”