Turning away from the most vulnerable is not an option in a fair and modern society

·3-min read
Staff on a hospital ward (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)
Staff on a hospital ward (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)

We are rightly judged on how we treat those who need help most and this government has shown we will step up - whether through the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, the Health and Social Care levy, or our levelling up agenda.

The Evening Standard frequently celebrates the good work of Londoners supporting people who do not have a home. The pandemic has shone a further light on groups that need help and nowhere is the light brighter than when looking at the homeless situation in London.

Shockingly, those who experience rough sleeping on average die 30 years earlier than those with a fixed and consistent home which is why we are supporting six projects in London, five in specific areas and one across the capital.

I’ve heard countless stories of the unimaginable situations people who are experiencing homelessness face - a man who was hospitalised with severe withdrawal from alcohol who had to live in a storage container on a mattress on the floor, a woman with a brain injury, who is also currently undergoing regular radiology treatment for cancer having to stay in temporary accommodation with no proper laundry or cooking facilities, and a man sectioned under the Mental Health Act who had no appropriate accommodation to go to when he was discharged. This is appalling.

That is why we have invested £16 million - including £7.2 million in London - on pilot projects to end the cycle of people being discharged from hospital, back onto the streets where their problems worsen, ending in further treatment in hospital.

These schemes do not just help the individuals to get better more quickly and stay well, but also the communities where they live and the NHS - helping to remove the costs and capacity problems associated with repeated hospital care.

This cross-capital scheme offers 24/7 nursing support, specialist in-hospital and community based care and housing teams who plan for and support people to leave hospital safely.

The vast majority of us are lucky to have somewhere comfortable to go to once we have been treated and the idea of these pilots is to engage with those who unfortunately find themselves homeless in hospital and create a range of options at the point of discharge which doesn’t simply involve a return to the streets.

We know many people have complex needs and this is not a one size fits all model but one which can identify what each person needs, from housing to care, from drug cessation to employment advice.

By working together, the Healthy London Partnership - an organisation whose objective is to make London the healthiest global city - can also collect data and monitor the scale of the need, what is and is not working and how we can better provide for those who need it.

We have learnt a huge amount from the pandemic and continue to work to level up for all. This is not a fix-all but this is a bridge between hospital discharge and the streets which we are proud to support and I am determined to ensure we continue in our goal to step by step build back both better and fairer.

Gillian Keegan is the Minister of State for Care at the Department of Health and Social Care

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