Rough sleepers in homeless hotspots to benefit from NHS mental health support

Rough sleepers in towns with high rates of homelessness are to benefit from specialist NHS mental health care across the country.

A total of 14 new outreach teams are starting work to increase the total across the country to 37, exceeding the NHS Long Term Plan target of 20 by 2023/24.

Around 100 people a week are already receiving support from specialist mental health practitioners and other experts including advice and treatment to tackle underlying mental ill health.

This includes Michael, 48, who was helped by the team in Hull and said he “used to dread waking up in the morning and now I can’t wait to get up”.

There are an estimated 3,069 people sleeping rough on any given night in England, according to government figures.

Common mental health conditions – such as depression, anxiety, and panic disorder – are over twice as high among homeless people, with psychosis up to 15 times as high.

Research shows people are around 50% more likely to have spent over a year sleeping rough if they are also experiencing mental ill health.

The new NHS-led teams will bring together doctors, nurses and other clinicians to co-ordinate treatment and support with other local organisations including councils and charities.

The new services are part of co-ordinated efforts to ensure that rough sleepers have better access to NHS mental health support – joining up care with existing outreach, accommodation, drug and alcohol and physical healthcare services.

In each area, outreach teams – comprising NHS and local authority staff – will identify rough sleepers in need of help, support them to access a GP and then on to the new expert mental health support and care.

Professor Tim Kendall, NHS England clinical national director for mental health, said: “As part of a drive to tackle health inequalities, the NHS is opening more than a dozen mental health clinics so that homeless people can access specialist support in a convenient location.

“NHS teams working with local authorities will seek out rough sleepers who have often been through incredibly traumatic experiences to ensure they get the help they need – and do not fall through the cracks.

“While the NHS cannot solve homelessness on its own, we are trying to reach out to homeless people and working hard to ensure that those who need mental health support get it. To do that, we are making it as easy as possible to access services, designed and built around patients’ needs.”

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.

This new funding is worth £3.2million and will be used over the next year to build and scale up comprehensive services across:

  • Brent
  • Westminster and Camden
  • Somerset
  • Devon
  • Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead
  • Surrey Heartlands
  • Peterborough
  • Great Yarmouth
  • Hereford and Worcestershire
  • Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin
  • East Riding
  • Sheffield and Doncaster
  • Greater Manchester

Case study

The clinic based at Miranda House in Hull opened in January 2020 thanks to NHS funding. The clinic helps people like Michael, 48, who was found rough sleeping in a shop doorway when he came to the attention of the Homeless Mental Health Team who offered him support. Michael described the impact the clinic had on his life:

Michael said: “I really was at the gates of hell. I think losing my father had a massive effect on me although I hadn’t really grieved properly. I was numb, emotionally and physically, and when I think back, I realised I didn’t have long left to live. My support workers tell me I was on their radar because I was at risk of death.

“On Christmas Day 2021 I stopped everything bad. Drugs, drink, tablets – everything finished. Even though I was getting so much help from the teams I was doing my own bit as well.

“I started believing in myself and my confidence and now I’m about 90% of what I want to be.

“I used to dread waking up in the morning and now I can’t wait to get up.”