Almost 700 people were discharged from hospital into homelessness in Dublin last year, new figures show.
Figures from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) show 689 “unique individuals...were discharged from hospital into emergency accommodation” in 2016.
Several hospitals, including Tallaght, St James's and the Mater, say they have seen a marked increase in homelessness among inpatients. The children's hospitals also say they have seen a rise in homelessness among their patients, increasing workloads for social work departments .
The Mater hospital, which serves Dublin’s north inner city, said: “An audit in 2016 demonstrated that 4,402 patients attended the emergency department with either no fixed abode or living in emergency accommodation. This represents 8.4 per cent of all presentations to the department. Approximately 400 referrals were made to the social work department for support around homelessness.”
St James’s hospital, in Dublin’s south inner city, had seen “an increase in the numbers of homeless people presenting to the hospital...Discharge delays can occur when the DRHE is unable to source suitable accommodation for patients.”
The children's hospital group – which comprises Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin, Temple Street and the National Children's Hospital at Tallaght – said social worker departments had seen "an increase in [homelessness] cases in recent years".
“When a medical social work department encounters a family who are homeless, the social workers will work with that family to secure emergency [usually hotel] accommodation through the various homeless services.”
While a spokeswoman for the DRHE said the majority of the almost 700 people discharged into homeless services had accessed services before, several hospitals said patients frequently became homeless while in hospital.
They could “lose their rented accommodation because they are in hospital for months” or their current accommodation could be unsuitable, particularly if they had acquired a disability.
The HSE is piloting a national hospital discharge protocol for homelessness, “to ensure clear procedures are in place, involving the health services, local authorities, homeless action teams and the voluntary sector, so that all discharges of persons experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness from acute and mental health care services are planned with the necessary accommodation and supports in place prior to discharge”.
It is operating in St James’s and the Mater hospitals, to be extended to other hospitals this year, a HSE spokesman said.
Of the Dublin maternity hospital that responded to question, the Rotunda said it discharged 16 patients last year and 53 in 2015 into a "temporary place of residence". The Coombe said it did not discharge patients unless "fully satisfied they have suitable accommodation available for both mother and baby".