LOROS Annual Lecture: "Hospices can help the homeless"

Published on 5th April 2019

Homeless people die young and die from preventable diseases. That’s the stark backdrop to the LOROS annual lecture which was delivered by palliative care nurse and PhD student Wendy Ann Webb last week to a packed audience.

Quoting shocking figures which state that women who are homeless have a life expectancy of just 43 years, with men at 47 years, Wendy laid out the stark reality for homeless people at the end of their lives.

“You can’t fail to be aware that homelessness is a huge problem in this country and with recent TV programmes like 60 Days on the Streets, it is increasingly in the spotlight”, said Wendy.

“Research has found that many homeless people die of diseases which are treatable such as tuberculosis or pneumonia. Their deaths are sudden and they mostly do not receive end of life care. They are often found by other residents in a hostel. In short their deaths lack dignity as their lives do too.”

Wendy contrasted the causes of death in the general population with those of the homeless population, finding that very few die from cancer as they simply don’t live long enough.

“Most people experiencing homelessness don’t regularly access health care and don’t die from cancer or heart disease. As a result it’s often not straightforward to give a clear diagnosis and predict how their condition might develop, as well as providing the support they need as they approach the end of their lives.”

Hospices, which are expert in end of life care, could help tackle this inequality, Wendy said.

“Strengthening of links between hospices and hostels is important. Hostel staff understand the needs of homeless people and have a role in helping educate hospices particularly around mental health issues.

“Hospice staff should offer their care direct to homeless people by visiting hostels. They have the medical expertise to recognise when health is deteriorating, but also importantly, the ability to support those vital conversations with people about what matters most when they die.”

LOROS is supporting a range of homeless hostels and charities within Leicester.

Jackie McBlain, community engagement lead, said, “At LOROS we are passionate about supporting people experiencing homelessness. We’re talking to hostels and support groups about what we can deliver for their clients outside the Hospice itself, as we understand there may be reluctance to come to us.

“We’re also looking to set up opportunities for them to come and volunteer with us so we can understand more about their clients’ needs, and they can gain experience as well as know more about what our Hospice can offer.”

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