Homeless people with a terminal illness are dying alone and in fear, MP Ed Davey has said, as he led calls to ensure people no longer die in cold and pain on the UK’s streets.
The former cabinet minister wants to introduce a new law, to ensure people receive proper care and can die with dignity, after they are diagnosed with less than 12 months to live.
MPs are set to debate his his Homelessness (End of Life Care) Bill in Parliament, next month, after Sir Ed introduced it to members of the House of Commons. He said: “Being homeless on the streets must be frightening. Cold. Lonely. Depressing. To be seriously ill, as well as homeless, seems to me to be beyond frightening.
“Yet homeless people are dying on Britain’s streets, in our parks, in doorways or, if they’re lucky, in ill-equipped hostels.”
Sir Ed is calling for changes in the law to prevent people from dying on the streets and alone in public places. Under current law, it can be difficult for people to secure the stable accommodation they need, if the local council deems they are “intentionally homeless.”
An automatic legal right
“Few people aim for that to be the intention,” said Sir Ed, who wants this condition to be scrapped as a deciding factor, when homeless people are diagnosed with less than 12 months to live.
He said that if a doctor certified that a homeless patient was not expected to live beyond 12 months, then that person should have an “automatic” legal right to the appropriate housing, care and support they need.
Under his proposed changes, doctors’ palliative care registers, rather than local authority assessments, would be the determining factor in the provision of stable housing and appropriate care.
Sir Ed also touched on the possibility of specialist hospice hostels, and training specialist NHS staff to care for people with addiction or other health issues that can add to the complexity of someone’s palliative care needs.
According to the charity Crisis which supports the homeless, the average homeless person’s age of death in the UK, is just 47 years old. It said that homeless women die at the average age of 43. The average age of death across the nation’s entire population is 77, with women living until the age of 80.
In January, Government figures revealed that 4,751 people were living rough on England’s streets last autumn – a 15 percent increase in the number of street sleepers in 2016.
“Bad death is being lonely”
Last summer, Charities Hospice UK and Marie Curie called for greater support for homeless people with a terminal illness and better access to care.
Welcoming the the Homelessness (End of Life Care) Bill, Hospice UK’s director of advocacy and change, Jonathan Ellis, told the Independent: “People who are homeless are currently poorly served when it comes to receiving quality care at the end of life as they often struggle to access services.
“Even when they do, their needs are not always understood or acted upon by health and care services.”
Urging fellow MPs to support the Homelessness (End of Life Care) Bill, Sir Ed described the prospect of a cold and painful death in a doorway, reading aloud the words of people living on the streets.
“Bad death is being lonely. No friends around you, when you’re passing away. Death is never really good but at least it would be better with friends around. You know, someone to hold your hand.”
Quoting another person, Sir Ed read: “End of life? What end of life are you talking about? I’m on the street and nobody cares about me.”
“Friends,” he concluded. “ Let’s support this bill. Let’s show we do care.”
The Homelessness (End of Life Care) Bill will have its second reading in Parliament on March 16.