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Your spotlight on local services

Waltham Forest homeless people face barriers in accessing health care


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The homeless population in Waltham Forest face several barriers when accessing health care, according to a recent report published by Healthwatch Waltham Forest in July 2015.

The report, ‘Talking with the homeless community in Waltham Forest’, raises awareness about the inequalities homeless people encounter when accessing GP, A&E and other healthcare services.

Focus group studies, carried out in partnership with Turning Point and PL84U-Al Suffa, and taking place in April 2015 with local homeless people found barriers exist around identification or proof of address requested by practices when registering new patients.

Participants who are registered with a GP also said they experienced difficulties in contacting the surgery and getting an appointment – similar issues to those experienced by the wider population, but also particularly exacerbated by their circumstances.

A negative perception of homeless people by staff was identified by participants, alongside a general lack of dignity and respect, and in some instances quality of care too.

Heavy use of A&E services by the client group was also found to be linked to the difficulties in accessing GP services and appointments.

Once at hospital, difficulties were reported around a lack of holistic care, joined up intervention and adequate follow up by mainstream as well as specialist services (hospital and community mental health teams and alcohol and substance misuse services), which were identified by individuals accessing A&E to get help.

Perceived stigma and lack of joined up care was attributed to the worsening of physical and mental health problems. Some wanting help identified resorting to jail in order to get well

Jaime Walsh, Healthwatch Waltham Forest Manager said: “There are a range of challenges within the system in catering for local homeless people within the primary care setting and avoiding over use of A&E services.

“Despite these challenges, some GPs have been able to get it right and this should be shared more widely across the borough.

“It is hoped that the findings presented in the report will help commissioners and service providers find better ways to improve access to health services for this vulnerable group.”

There were some participants who had positive experiences to share. For instance, a patient registered at St James Medical Practice said it was easy to get an appointment; acknowledging their same day service for emergencies and flexible appointment booking system meet his needs and works well for him.

Another patient at Oliver Road was also grateful about the efficient service they provide; revealing he was able to get a prescribed medication for his mental health condition within two hours of contacting the practice.

Saira Mir from PL84U-Al Suffa said: “Healthwatch Waltham Forest has been great in connecting with the local communities, some of which are hard-to-reach. This report may help make the homeless community feel valued and accepted as part of society and recognise that their experiences and views matter.”

This press release summarises the findings from two focus groups with homeless people, held in April 2015.  The full report is available here.