Background: Homeless people are associated with high rates of mortality, morbidity, drug use and other health risk behaviours, making them a particularly vulnerable group. Due to the transient nature of this population, continuity of healthcare is particularly difficult. The Safetynet Primary Care Network for Homeless Health Service provides homeless people with free access to primary care workers including GPs, nurses and drug workers. It uses a web-based computer system to record patient data to a central database, including medical histories and prescribing information. This information can then be shared and accessed across different Safetynet clinics. This allows patients to be safely treated in any Safetynet clinic, thus increasing access to primary care services.
Study aims: To investigate the health and healthcare needs of patients accessing the Safetynet services.
- To investigate the prevalence of physical and mental health issues in this cohort of patients
- To investigate prescribing patterns in this population
- To identify the healthcare needs of this population
- To identify risk factors leading to poor health outcomes for this population
- To compare the health and well-being of this population with previous studies investigating health in homeless populations in Ireland, conducted prior to the establishment of SafetyNet
Study design: This is a cohort study. A questionnaire was developed to assess patients’ reasons for homelessness, medical history, mental health and quality of life, medication use, health behaviours and use and opinion of health services available to homeless people. The questionnaire will be administered at baseline and at 12 month follow-up.
Progress to date: Baseline data collection began in summer 2011 and a total of 105 participants were recruited from Safetynet clinics. Participants were followed up during the summer of 2012. Two papers have been prepared following the output of this work.
1. Health and use of health services of people who are homeless and at risk of homelessness who receive free primary health care in Dublin: A comparative study. This paper is currently under review with BMC Health Services Research.
2. Health, quality of life and health services use among homeless illicit drug users: A descriptive study. This paper has been submitted for publication.