BMA investigation: Number of homeless people visiting A&E has tripled since 2011
The number of visits to England’s emergency departments by homeless people has more than trebled since 2011, an investigation by the BMA has discovered.
Recorded visits to hospital A&E departments by patients classed as having no fixed abode has risen from 11,305 in 2011 to almost 32,000 last year.
The BMA investigation reveals that some of society’s most vulnerable people are being failed by the system – with health and social care cuts driving the problem. To make matters worse, homeless patients are presenting with increasingly complex physical and mental health conditions.
Some of the hospital trusts with the largest increases in A&E attendances by homeless people since 2011 include:
- Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust London – 1,563 per cent increase.
- South Tees Hospital NHS Foundation Trust – 1,125 per cent increase.
- Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust – 847 per cent increase.
- Stockport NHS Foundation Trust – 310 per cent increase.
Admissions from emergency departments to hospital wards have also rocketed – from 3,378 in 2011 to 9,282 in 2018.
The figures for attendance to A&E and hospital admissions represent a bill to the NHS of an estimated £47m over eight years. But the true cost to the health service is hidden due to shortcomings in the NHS’ mechanisms for recording homeless patients. In addition, many hospital trusts did not respond to our request for figures.
Ambulance services have also experienced a significant increase in demand from homeless patients. Worryingly, only two of the country’s ten ambulance trusts responded to a request for figures as most said they did not keep the data, but of the two that did respond, both reported a significant rise in the number of cases related to homeless patients.
- The South-Central Ambulance Service, covering Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Hampshire, has seen the number of cases relating to homeless patients rocket from 268, in 2015, to 1,834 in 2018.
- The South East Coast Ambulance Service reported an increase from 54 in 2014, to 339 in 2018.
As part of the investigation, a survey of GPs in England found that over a quarter said they had seen an increase in the number of homeless patients during the last five years, with almost a fifth reporting that their surgery was having to devote greater time and resources to homeless patients than they did five years ago.
BMA public health medicine committee chair, Dr Peter English, said: “If this was some disease-causing all these problems it would be a much higher priority but because victims can be blamed and stigmatised it is easy for the government to ignore. The growing numbers of rough sleepers and vulnerably housed people in our society is a continuing tragedy. To stand by silently as our NHS faces increasing strain and our society becomes increasingly unequal would be unacceptable. ”
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