Ministers must agree rapid plan to tackle homelessness, RCN tells Big Issue

As winter approaches, people being discharged from mental health hospitals need a real alternative to the streets, writes general secretary Janet Davies

Government ministers need to ‘pull out all the stops’ to prevent people with poor mental health ending up on the streets, the RCN has said.

From left: RCN general secretary Janet Davies, Big issue sellers Pat and George and Big Issue founder 
John Bird.

A column by RCN general secretary Janet Davies in the Big Issue magazine today marked a new partnership between the homeless charity and the college.

Ms Davies writes that, as winter fast approaches, the four governments of the UK and the NHS must agree a rapid plan to make routine care and treatment more easily available during the harsh weather.

Alternative to the streets

‘Ministers should pull out all the stops to make sure people being discharged from mental health hospitals have a real alternative to the street,’ she writes.

She adds that the government must ‘redouble efforts to let those without a fixed address know that GPs are able to make exceptions and make sure surgeries are left in no doubt’.

The RCN says obstacles to accessing primary care and mental health support, along with funding cuts, mean homeless people are four times more likely to be admitted through emergency departments than the rest of the population.

Enabling independence

She writes: ‘A nurse’s role focuses on maximising potential and enabling independence - which is why we believe supporting the work of The Big Issue is so relevant for us. Nursing staff are ready to play a part in making this winter, and the year that follows it, a much-needed moment of change.’

The RCN has agreed a three-year deal to sponsor the red tabards worn by Big Issue vendors.

UK health departments have defended their investment in care for homeless people.

Reducing homelessness

The UK Department of Health said it supported the Homelessness Reduction Act, which places a new duty on local authorities to reduce homelessness, adding that it had allocated £950 million until 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.

A spokesperson said: ‘We urge homeless people to sign up to a GP service so they can get the treatment they need. Training is available for receptionists and guidance supports GPs to deliver care for the homeless.’

The Welsh government announced an additional £2.6m this year to invest in tackling homelessness with a specific focus on addressing youth homelessness and rough sleeping.

‘Where appropriate the grants to local authorities are conditional on them working collaboratively with health boards and other providers,’ a spokesperson said.

‘To support this we are convening a working group in the new year to explore mental health, substance misuse and homelessness issues.’

Mental health needs

Scottish local government and housing minister Kevin Stewart said: ‘Scotland has some of the strongest housing rights for homeless people anywhere in the world, but we recognise that for some people, who may have more complex needs including mental health needs, simply providing accommodation is not always enough to address their homelessness. 

‘Our new mental health strategy recognises the link between poor mental health and homelessness and focuses on early intervention.’

The Scottish government has also set up a £50 million Ending Homelessness Together Fund.

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland has been approached for a comment.

Further information

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