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Dying homeless people are invisible in UK – who takes care of them on their last days?

We have to take care of other members of society – that is our responsibility. However, some people just die unnoticed because of flaws in our health care systems. For example, some terminally ill homeless people in UK slip through cracks of services, as a new study from UCL has revealed.

Homeless people often spend their last days in homeless hostels, where they cannot get the necessary support. Image credit: Allan warren – via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

When you are approaching the end of your life, it is difficult to be alone. Furthermore, you need support. Medical personnel can make the final journey much less frightening and painful. But for some people none of this is available even in developed countries. Many homeless people in UK who may be approaching the end of their lives are living in homeless hostels. While hostel staff may be well-meaning, these people do not have necessary qualifications, skills or equipment to take care of terminally ill patients. They don’t even have palliative care training or support to take care of dying homeless people.

This was found in a study describing the lack of appropriate services for homeless people in the UK. Scientists noticed that homeless hostels do not have the right personnel to take care of terminally ill patients properly, and have to make do with what they have. It is a huge burden on staff of these hostels, which do not even have necessary resources to take this role, because they are meant for temporary accommodation. Dr Caroline Shulman, lead author of the study, said about homeless hostels: “They are not designed to meet the needs of seriously or terminally ill residents. Hostel staff often struggle to secure additional support from social services or palliative care services for their residents who have complex problems”.

Many homeless people die young because of advanced liver disease, often complicated by mental health problems or drug and alcohol issues, or other conditions. Homeless people are invisible for the society. That is why in London, while there are a few attempts to improve the situation, no one really cares about ill homeless people. That is why scientists say that a greater collaboration between health, housing, social services and the voluntary sector should be encouraged. And, of course, staff of the hostels should get the necessary support to fulfil the role they were not hired to take.

Specialist attention is needed. When the person is in need of 24 hour support, especially when he is dying, usual hostel staff cannot provide the necessary care. Recognizing the problem is the first step towards solution, so hopefully it is on the way.

 

Source: UCL

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