New mobile heath unit for rough sleepers

Mortality rate much higher among homeless
  • Deborah Condon

A new mobile health unit for homeless people who sleep rough in Dublin has been officially launched by the Minister for Health.

The unit is a specially fitted Mercedes Sprinter van, which replaces an old vehicle that was no longer fit for purpose. This service, which has been provided by Safetynet and the Dublin Simon Community since 2010, runs every Tuesday and Thursday.

Medical care is provided by a GP registrar from the Dublin-based GP Training Progamme, while a HSE-funded nurse is also available.

"Previously the mobile health service travelled to a number of homeless shelters each night for residents to board the vehicle if they sought medical assistance. Now with health services being offered by Safetynet Primary Care on-site in homeless facilities, the new service was reconfigured to target those not linked in with any hostel or health services," explained Safetynet general manager, Dr Fiona O'Reilly.

According to Safetynet, research has shown that the mortality rate among homeless people is up to four times greater than the rate among those who are not homeless.

"Evidence in Ireland and the UK suggests the need for specialised services because homeless people under-utilise mainstream primary health care services for various reasons including accessibility, attitudes and medical card difficulties.

"It stands to reason that different health-seeking behaviours require innovative and adaptive services. This customised mobile health unit aims to overcome barriers of time, money, and trust, and provide tailored care to homeless people and those medically disenfranchised," commented Safetynet medical director, Dr Austin O'Reilly.

The number of homeless people in Ireland increased by 25% between July 2016 and July 2017 and there are currently over 8,100 people homeless nationwide.

"In response to the deterioration in the homeless crisis and the increase in the numbers of people who are forced to sleep on the streets, Dublin Simon Community's' staff and volunteers walk the streets to identify people sleeping rough to link them in with services including the mobile health unit," noted Sam McGuinness of the Dublin Simon Community.

The new mobile unit was launched at the recent Irish Street Medicine Symposium in UCD.


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