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Homeless people with terminal illnesses need more support

Terminally ill man in a homeless hostel

Homeless people who are terminally ill need better end of life support, says palliative care charity Marie Curie. Amid revelations that homeless terminally ill people are living out their lives in hostels, charity Hospice UK has also called for better access to hospice care for everyone in the UK, no matter their background or personal circumstances.

The report by Marie Curie revealed that untrained hostel staff are caring for terminally ill homeless people at the end of life, placing immense pressure on staff who want to help the disadvantaged people staying with them.

“At least three times a shift we check she’s okay,” commented one hostel staff member in the report. “It’s hard…particularly on weekends and nights when we only have two staff.

“It’s a big hostel, you really can only do so much…This isn’t an appropriate environment, but it’s the best we have.”

The research into homelessness at the end of life was conducted by the Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Department at University College London (UCL), Pathway, St Mungo’s and Coordinate My Care. Their work with homeless people and care professionals revealed that hostel staff often end up caring for terminally ill people, despite not having the palliative care training or support to do so.

Dr Caroline Shulman, who led the research, said: “Hostels provide temporary accommodation. 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.”

Professor Steve Field, chief inspector of general practice at the Care Quality Commission (CQC), promises a detailed report in the next few months, exploring how the wider community can support vulnerable homeless people at the end of life.

“As a GP I have seen how the lack of appropriate and sensitive services can mean that homeless people are denied the compassionate healthcare, dignity and respect that they deserve at the end of their lives,” he said.

“Everyone has the right to safe, high-quality, and compassionate health and social care.”

Carole Walford, chief clinical officer of Hospice UK, said the hospice care charity was “committed to tackling all inequality and making sure that everyone gets equal access to the best possible care at the end of their lives.”

She added: “Our Open Up Hospice Care campaign is aimed at widening access to hospice care, ensuring that this is available to all. It is important that homeless people have the same access to appropriate hospice services as everyone else.”

Hospice UK supports over 200 hospices in the UK and, through its Open Up Hospice Care campaign, wants to ensure that everyone has access to quality end of life care. The charity says that while hospices support more than 200,000 people every year, a further 100,000 people who need support are not getting it.

Research from Hospice UK has highlighted that one in four UK families are missing out on vital end of life care, with people from economically deprived areas among those most likely to experience barriers to accessing hospice care.

To donate to Hospice UK’s campaign, text OPEN12 £5 to 70070, or find out more online.

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