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A nurse said 'we shouldn’t waste NHS money on people like that' - why we need to ensure the NHS has the tools to play its part in ending homelessness

Jeff Parker, Expert by experience

Crisis, Pathway, and a coalition of organisations are advocating to ensure the NHS plays its full role in preventing and ending homelessness. We are seeking changes, via amendments to the Health and Care Bill, that would embed approaches to homelessness and other forms of social exclusion across our health and social care system and ensure that specialist and non-judgmental services are available to all. Too often, people fall through the gaps in our healthcare system, struggle to access services, or have to contend with stigmatising attitudes from the people they are asking support from. In this blog, Jeff Parker, one of Crisis’ experts by experience, shares his experiences of homelessness and the NHS.

I’ve been a victim of homelessness a few times over the years. You may think victim isn’t the right way to describe it, but it’s often how people on the streets feel.

My first brush with homelessness was many years ago. I had a good home but something traumatic happened and I left. My thoughts were to just to get away from everyone so they wouldn’t remind me of my trauma; I intended to end my life somewhere where they couldn’t stop me.

So, there I was, homeless. I hitched now and again, slept where I ended up. I remember being in Leeds for a few weeks and going into a hospital as I’d fallen and cut myself so needed to go to A&E. Standing there waiting, I remember a little old lady in front of me, and when she reached the front, the receptionist greeted her so nicely. She said “what can I do for you my dear”.  When it was my turn, she spat the words out “what do you want, you can’t get drugs here”.  I have never been an addict and her perception was the same obviously for anyone sleeping rough. I explained calmly what had happened and was told to wait in the corner till the “normal” people had been seen.

For a while I got my life back on track and continued perfectly well, but I kept straying from the path and ending up in prison and each time I got out it was back to hostel life. One such hostel was in Middlesbrough and while there I was taken ill and a staff member dropped me outside the hospital. In pain, almost doubled up I stood waiting to get help. All went well at the hospital until I told them I was living in a hostel. A nurse appeared from behind reception. I thought she was taking me to a doctor, when in fact, she sprayed me head to foot in air freshener. I didn’t smell, I’d had a shower only an hour or so earlier but that’s just how they thought, and they thought it was perfectly ok to do that to me.

One time, on release from prison, I was secured accommodation. It was disgusting, I left, it was cleaner and definitely safer on the streets, but life took its toll and I tried to kill myself. I ended up in another hospital, and after my stomach was pumped, I heard two nurses talking. One said, “we shouldn’t waste NHS money on people like that, scum should just be left to die”. And this was a nurse in the so-called caring profession.

All these encounters with healthcare services make me wish one of those hospitals had specialist services such as a Pathways Team in it, especially one with a Care Navigator who had lived experience of homelessness and understood the difficulties people who are homeless face. Pathway is a charity that helps hospitals across the country provide specialist support to thousands of patients experiencing homelessness every year.

Thankfully the last time I got out of prison, I started engaging with Crisis Skylight in Newcastle and their housing coach Clare helped so much. It took a while but I’m now very happy in my forever home. And now I volunteer for Crisis, Pathway, Groundswell and NHS England’s Public Participation Team. There can be a light at the end of the tunnel.

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