The leader of the Royal College of Nursing has called for urgent action to improve NHS care for the homeless, including more training for nurses, as the college embarks on a landmark partnership with the Big Issue.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said it was vital to tackle gaps in care for the homeless and rough sleepers with the hardest winter months looming.
“A nurse’s role focuses on maximising potential and enabling independence”
She also called for improved training for nursing staff and NHS professionals on the causes and consequences of homelessness, and where wider support can be found.
Ms Davies was writing in the Big Issue to launch a three-year partnership between the RCN and the charity, which will include sponsorship of the iconic red tabards worn by Big Issue sellers
The nursing profession and the charity had the same kind of goals when it came to helping some of the most vulnerable members of society, she said.
“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,” she said. “Nursing staff are ready to play a part in making this winter and the year that follows it a much-needed moment of change.”
In the article, she called for action in key areas, including when it came to encouraging people without a fixed address to register with a GP surgery.
“Winter is fast approaching and the four governments of the UK and their NHS must agree a rapid plan to make routine care and treatment more easily available during these harsh months,” she warned.
“They 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,” she said.
Many homeless people mistakenly believe they need proof of address to register with a GP. However, Ms Davies flagged up a successful scheme in London that has helped raise awareness through cards at homeless shelters and food banks.
She also highlighted the impact of cuts to specialist mental health services for the homeless with many people ending up in crisis at accident and emergency and struggling to access long-term support.
“Specialist homelessness mental health teams have been subject to major funding cuts and even disappeared entirely while other services struggle to support people who face multiple complex problems,” she said.
“For others, not having a GP means there is nobody to make the necessary specialist referral,” she said. “Ministers should pull out all the stops to make sure people being discharged from mental health hospital have a real alternative to the street.”