Conference on health and homelessness held in Derry

Dr Stephen Bergin, Dr Michael McBride Nis Chief Medical Officer and Diarmuid O'Donovan, QUB
Dr Stephen Bergin, Dr Michael McBride Nis Chief Medical Officer and Diarmuid O'Donovan, QUB

Approximately 120 delegates attended an annual conference on health, wellbeing and homelessness in Derry last week.

‘Ensuring no-one falls between the gaps’ was organised by the Department of Health, Queen’s University Belfast and the Public Health Agency.

The conference brought together front line staff, key policy makers and experts from across the UK and Ireland to discuss a range of public health topics in relation to homelessness.

Opening the conference, Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride, said: “People who are homeless experience extreme health inequalities and barriers to accessing mainstream healthcare. Homeless people are ten times more likely to die than those of a similar age in the general population. The average age of death is a shocking 30 years lower than those who are not homeless.

“Homelessness is not a choice, it is a symptom of a wider societal problem which requires a partnership approach to deal with it. This conference aims to raise awareness of the problems faced and to break down the barriers ensuring everyone has equal access to our health and social care system.”

Dr Stephen Bergin, Assistant Director of Public Health at PHA, said: “People experiencing homelessness are significantly more likely to experience some form of mental or physical health problem. At the same time, they are less likely to access Health and Social Care services as well as other public services.

“Events like this help facilitate the sharing of best practice and are vital in helping to inform how services are shaped to support people with complex lives and to make sure that access to services is easier.”

Dr Nigel Hart, a GP and Senior Lecturer in the School of Medicine at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “As educators and trainers of the next generation of those who will work in healthcare we have a responsibility to nurture attitudes towards equity and an orientation towards advocacy for the most marginalised in our society. Our educational curricula should reflect these aspirations.”