A new U.K. study finds alarming evidence of severe mental health problems, drug and alcohol dependence, and high rates of hepatitis C among those in the homeless population.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham analyzed routinely collected data from nearly 1,000 patients registered in the Birmingham Homeless Healthcare Centre.
The findings, published in the British Journal of General Practice, show that nearly one in eight homeless individuals 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.
The researchers also found that nearly one in three homeless people attended an Accident and Emergency Department in the previous 12 months. This equates to nearly 60 times the rate of A&E visits in the general population.
“The study provides compelling evidence about the health problems faced by homeless people,” said lead Investigator Dr. Vibhu Paudyal, from the University of Birmingham’s School of Pharmacy.
“Participants, whose average age was 38 years old, had two or more serious chronic medical conditions, a rate comparable to people in their 60s. Substance abuse and alcohol dependency were common, as were mental health problems and hepatitis C.”
“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.”
Paudyal says the evidence suggests that retention in long-term treatment of hepatitis C infection is better when treatment of substance dependence is offered at the same time. Such a multi-disciplinary approach can effectively prevent disease and harm from risky behaviors, improve health outcomes and reduce demand on A&E departments, Paudyal said.
The study authors urge general practitioners to make the registration of homeless people easier and to put up signs for specialist homelessness services where they are available. They say mainstream health services should be flexible and tailored to ensure this population does not face challenges and barriers in accessing care.
“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,” said Paudyal.
“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 suggest that there are over 320,000 homeless people in the U.K., and the number continues to rise.
Source: University of Birmingham