Charity urges Govt to stop charging homeless people for prescriptions

A leading healthcare agency has called on the Government to lift prescription charges for homeless people.

Safetynet Primary Care, a charity which runs 20 clinics in Dublin, Limerick and Cork, said the benefit would be a "quick fix" to some of the health problems for people in emergency accommodation and hostels.

Dr Fiona O'Reilly, Safetynet general manager, told the Oireachtas Health Committee that asking homeless people to pay for medication was a barrier to care.

The committee also heard calls for the Government to speed up the opening of "fix rooms" in Dublin for heroin-users to inject under medical supervision.

Safetynet also questioned why GPs were not tasked by the HSE with providing methadone therapy as a basic service.

There are more than 7,000 people classed as homeless, including more than 2,000 children.

Dr O'Reilly warned about people who had been forced to live in emergency accommodation in B&Bs, hotels and new family hubs then being given homeless-specific healthcare.

"As much as people should be kept out of homelessness, they should be kept out of homeless-specific services," she said.

"We have failed again if another cohort comes into homeless services."

Dr O'Reilly also told the committee that Ken Loach's critically acclaimed film I, Daniel Blake, which won the Palm d'Or in Cannes, should be mandatory viewing for anyone working in public services.

"It really shows how the State helps people into homelessness," she said.

The committee was told of studies which found two-thirds of homeless people suffered chronic health issues and more than half had mental health conditions.

It heard that Safetynet reached more than 50% of the homeless population with primary care services.

Dr Austin O'Carroll, medical director of Safetynet and director of the North Dublin City GP Training Programme, said two of his patients had died in the last six months while waiting to get methadone treatment.

He cited the tragic death of a young mother from the Midlands who was forced to travel to Dublin to access the therapy.

Dr O'Carroll said that despite doing well on the treatment she was forced to return to the capital for a prescription but was violently assaulted when she stayed in a hostel and ended up back on the streets.

She died three weeks later from an overdose.

"I think if she had got treated down the country she would not be dead," he told the committee.

"People don't realise but more people die from drug related death than from suicide or car accidents combined. It's the biggest killer of young people."

Safetynet also warned that outpatient services for homeless people was a waste of money because so many people did not attend.

Dr O'Carroll warned that more than half of the 40 Hepatitis C patients he referred to hospital for potentially lifesaving treatment did not turn up for appointments.

"I told them all it was lifesaving," he said.

"Twenty-six missed their appointments and did not turn up."


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