Key facts about the health needs of Reading’s homeless people

Posted 26/07/2018

The results of a Reading Borough Council-led audit of 150 homeless people (single adults or people in relationships without any children) were revealed at the 13 July 2018 meeting of the Reading Health and Wellbeing Board. Healthwatch Reading staff were among 23 volunteers from local patient groups and charities who helped interview people at hostels and shelters over five weeks in January and February 2017. Here we present a snapshot of the findings.

84% of respondents said they were smokers, 43% had a drug problem or were in recovery, and 30% had a drinking problem. These figures are all slightly higher than national averages reported for homeless people.  Of the people who disclosed alcohol use, 22% said they drank five or more days a week. Of those who took drugs, the most common one used by the person in the previous month was cannabis/weed (44%), crack/cocaine (38%) and heroin (27%). Nearly one-quarter said they took methadone, Subutex or other substitute drugs.

80% of respondents reported having a mental health problem, many of whom said being homeless was a contributing factor. Asked what type of mental health issues they had, 110 said they had depression, 88 had anxiety, 44 had a ‘dual diagnosis’ of a mental health problem as well as a drug and/or alcohol problem, 28 said they had been diagnosed with a personality disorder, 24 with post-traumatic stress disorder and 19 with psychosis. Females and the 18-25 year-old age group reported highest levels of mental health problems. Respondents said they found it difficult to access NHS mental health services and they wanted face-to-face support to help them manage their needs.

53% of respondents had long term physical health problems, compared to the 44% national average. The top three conditions were joint aches or problems with bones/muscles; heart problems/chronic breathing problems, and dental problems. Healthwatch Reading’s own report of more detailed interviews we carried out with some of the survey respondents and published in July 2017, also showed that access to dental care was a significant problem, with some people telling us they had removed their own teeth. 

41% of people had been to A&E in the past 12 months and 27% had been admitted to hospital. Some people said they had felt disbelieved when presenting with physical symptoms and that they were being judged when attending hospital whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The survey report notes ‘it is difficult in these circumstances to differentiate between individual perceptions and actual attitudes of professionals’. Some people also felt more could be done by hospital discharge staff to check a person’s housing situation before they left.

9% of people said a GP surgery had refused to register them as a patient, compared with the 18% national average. During the past 12 months, 73% of people said they had visited a GP. Comments from people showed that they valued and frequently used the Reading NHS Walk-In Centre in Broad Street Mall. People also gave positive comments about HOLT (the Health Outreach Liaison Team) run by Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which visits community locations to give health advice and treatment. 

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