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Plans For NHS Mental Health Teams To Assist Rough Sleepers

The NHS will deploy street mental health teams in several English towns and cities in an attempt to curb a rise in rough sleeping across England, according to reports.

What the plans involve

The NHS will deploy street mental health teams in English locations from Devon to Doncaster in an attempt to curb a rise in rough sleeping in England.

Initially, fourteen outreach teams will aim to get more rough sleepers on to a path to counseling, medication, or other treatments and will seek out people who have often been through incredibly traumatic experiences to ensure they get the help they need, said Professor Tim Kendall, NHS England’s clinical national director for mental health.

The £3.2m plan comes amid warnings of parallel, deeper council budget cuts to homelessness budgets that charities fear will worsen the problem. The latest data showed a 15% annual rise in new rough sleepers in London, while an England-wide snapshot taken last autumn revealed a 26% annual rise.

Will it help?

Homeless Link, which represents frontline organizations, welcomed more mental health support but, in the context of cuts, described it as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Reductions in support for rough sleeping would lead to a far greater need for mental health support, said its policy director, Sophie Boobis.

Devon county council plans to cut its £1.5m adult homelessness prevention fund, prompting a warning from the YMCA in Exeter of “potentially disastrous consequences.” The council has been warned the cut would increase rough sleeping, and mental health issues, including suicide ideation and drug and alcohol abuse.

Meanwhile, Kent county council has announced that its £5.3m-a-year Kent Homeless Connect service will be decommissioned. Porchlight, a homelessness charity, has estimated that this will result in £8m costs to the public sector in a worst-case scenario once the impact on the NHS, mental health services, and the judiciary are taken into account.

The new NHS clinics extend an existing scheme that has proved successful in places such as Hull, where a team including a psychiatrist, psychologist, and social workers took on 33 new cases last month.

Common mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and panic disorder are more than twice as high among homeless people, with cases of psychosis up to 15 times as high, NHS England said.

Where will the teams be based?

The new outreach teams will be established in Brent, Westminster, and Camden in London; Somerset and Devon; Medway, Slough, Windsor, and Maidenhead in the south-east; Peterborough and Great Yarmouth; Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin; East Riding, Sheffield and Doncaster in Yorkshire; and Greater Manchester.

Speaking to The Guardian newspaper, Prof Tim Kendall said,

“The mental health care will sit alongside existing support for rough sleepers, including, for example, one-to-one support from a specified caseworker who can help with everything from housing advice to attending NHS appointments – and will keep in contact with the patient for as long as is required.”


However, Matt Downie, the chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, said far more support was needed to reduce the number of people sleeping on the streets.

“We need specialist homeless healthcare services on the NHS to be upscaled and receive sustained funding so it’s no longer a postcode lottery,” he said. “But also, for people whose homelessness is compounded by health needs, the government needs to get behind the proven solutions – permanent housing solutions such as Housing First which come with the dedicated wraparound support that people need.”


In summary

In the current times, where police forces are scaling back responses to mental health-related call-outs, the news that NHS will create more dedicated mental health teams for homeless people should be welcomed.

However, it should be stated that far more needs to be done and that homelessness is a country-wide issue rather than just a regional one that requires a partial solution.

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