The Homeless are not just for Christmas

The start of February is a difficult time for many in the health service. It’s likely to be in the middle of the annual outbreak of flu, affecting both patients and staff. Respiratory complaints are more common and if the roads are icy there will be an increase in slips, falls and elderly hip fractures. It’s generally a miserable time of year with Christmas overspending still working its way through the bank balance of millions – NHS staff included.

One point that recently struck me is how the start of February must also be the very hardest time of year for the homeless. We all admire and applaud the generosity of spirit and effort made over the Christmas period for the homeless, with extra shelters, gifts, check ups, and food. However, we forget that all those special arrangements soon come to an end. The end of January is that point.

Charities will have worked hard to provide homeless people with accommodation, food, medical services and support while they had them in their temporary care over the festive period. This charitable effort makes a huge difference to the experience of Christmas for homeless people. But once Christmas is over many will inevitably be back on the street.

Consequently the NHS and in particular A&E departments will witness a surge in February as it reverts to its front line role for homeless people with health problems.

Diversity of provision is essential in dealing with complex social problems like those of the homeless. Even the NHS would not claim to have the capacity to deal with all the multiple needs of individuals who present themselves. But, in encouraging charities to pick up the challenge at Christmas are the public and policy makers ignoring a right to equal health treatment all year round for the homeless?

The health charity Pathway has been working on this issue for years and have picked up the challenge of trying to make sure that homeless people get more equal treatment all year round.

They will be back this March with lectures, training and speeches from leading health and homeless specialists at the Homeless & Inclusion Health 2017 Conference.

If they succeed then perhaps the people the charities and NHS help next Christmas will not be back on the NHS doorstep in February 2018.

By Neil Stewart
Editorial Director
The Equality Hub