An innovative scheme to improve health and social care for homeless people attending A&E in Bristol has been awarded permanent funding following a successful 18-month trial.
Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group has allocated £180,000 to fund and develop the Homeless Support Team scheme, based at the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI).
Homeless people typically suffer poorer health than the rest of the population and are much more likely to be admitted to hospital than others, making them a priority group for local health service commissioners.
The team, which is made up of doctors, nurses, social workers and other health and care professionals, supports patients both during and after their hospital stay with the aim of tackling the wider social issues that can lead homeless people to hospital admission.
In some cases, this can be as simple as ensuring that patients are guided to housing and benefits advice, given help registering with a GP or even just being provided with a clean set of clothes.
Hospital attendance is often a homeless person’s only contact with healthcare, providing an opportunity to proactively work with a patient during that time supporting them with other needs such as housing, as well as addressing their health needs. This then helps to reduce the frequency of attendances and improve health overall. As a result, during its first 18 months of operation, this scheme helped reduce A&E admissions among its target group by 24%, while the length of hospital stays fell from an average of 11 to 3 days. The number of homeless people who were readmitted to A&E within 28 days, also fell by 52%.
Local GP and CCG lead for the Homeless Support Team project, Dr Kate Rush, said: “Results from the first 18 months of the scheme show that this type of targeted help and support can make a huge difference to the health and wellbeing of homeless people living in our area.
“As we all know there are many reasons why a person may become homeless but in most cases it is not by choice and it can be an extremely difficult situation to escape from, with serious knock-on effects for an individual’s health and wellbeing which can lead to a repeated pattern of ill-health and hospital admissions.
“The scheme aims to break this cycle by working with homeless people attending A&E to get them back on their feet and address some of the issues that can lead to homelessness and ill-health in the first place. It’s incredibly encouraging to see the impact of the scheme from the first 18 months and I’m delighted that the CCG has been able to allocate funding to move it on to a permanent footing.”
BRI Clinical Coordinator for the Homeless Support Team, Lucy Harrison, said “This is really welcome news and will make a big difference to local homeless people.
“When homeless patients come into our care, they often have more than just health problems. This service helps to remove some of these barriers and makes accessing healthcare easier for them.” “The results we have seen from the pilot both in numbers and people has been really positive and we are looking forward to continuing this work and extending the service to meet the needs of the homeless in North Somerset and South Gloucestershire”.
The scheme is currently delivered by a partnership that includes the local Clinical Commissioning Group, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Trust, Bristol City Council social workers and St Mungo’s.