Fourteen new specialist mental health outreach teams for areas with high rates of homelessness have been launched by NHS England.
The teams will include clinical and local authority staff, and help to join up support with drug and alcohol, housing and other services.
The new teams will bring the total number in operation to 37 and help to build or scale up services in areas including Doncaster, Dorset, Manchester, Sheffield and Somerset, as well as the London boroughs of Brent, Camden and Westminster. The government estimates that there are more than 3,000 people sleeping rough in England on any given night, with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety more than twice as common among the homeless population. Rates of psychosis, meanwhile, are estimated to be around 15 times higher.
The teams will identify people in need of help and refer them on to GPs and specialist mental health care, as well as other health services. According to the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), out of 741 deaths of homeless people in 2021, almost 260 were the result of drug poisoning, 99 the result of suicide and 71 were alcohol-specific deaths. Being homeless is also estimated to increase HIV risk among people who inject drugs by 55 per cent and hep C risk by 65 per cent.
‘As part of a drive to tackle health inequalities, the NHS is opening more than a dozen mental health clinics so that homeless people can access specialist support in a convenient location,’ said NHS England’s clinical national director for mental health, Professor Tim Kendall. ‘NHS teams working with local authorities will seek out rough sleepers who have often been through incredibly traumatic experiences to ensure they get the help they need – and do not fall through the cracks. While the NHS cannot solve homelessness on its own, we are trying to reach out to homeless people and working hard to ensure that those who need mental health support get it. To do that, we are making it as easy as possible to access services, designed and built around patients’ needs.’
The Homeless Link charity welcomed the scaling up of support but its policy director Sophie Boobis told the Guardian that in the context of wider cuts to homelessness prevention budgets it amounted to ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’.