Objective: To determine the proportion of those that are homeless attending the Mater Misericordiae Hospital's (MUH) psychiatric service, including those presenting to accident and emergency who were homeless, and to compare the homeless group with the non-homeless so as to obtain a profile of this group.
Methods: All adults over 16, referred for psychiatric assessment, attending A&E were included, as were those attending outpatient clinics, liaison consultations and inpatients in the psychiatric unit, in the six-month period from January to June 2003. Excluded were those who were under 16, who refused to participate, who did not speak English, those with a diagnosis of personality disorder and organic brain damage. Questionnaires were completed by psychiatric registrars and a community psychiatric nurse, with an ICD-10 diagnosis recorded on each individual, in consultation with the treating consultant psychiatrist.
Results: A total of 628 patients were seen in MUH during the study period, and 13.8% were homeless. Of the homeless, 56.3% were seen as emergency referrals in the A&E, 23% were inpatients (including the psychiatric unit and consultations in medical/surgical wards) and 20.7% were seen in the outpatient department. Of all the A&E referrals to psychiatry, 34.8% were homeless. The homeless presented most commonly in suicidal crisis (26.6%) compared with 12.5% in the non-homeless group. Substance-abuse disorders were the primary diagnosis in 42.3% of the homeless group, accounting for 14.2% in the housed sample. Outcome for both groups was similar, with slightly more homeless being referred for psychiatric admission (17.8%), as compared to 12.0% in the nonhomeless group.
Conclusions: Mental illness and the need for psychiatric services remain a serious issue for a significant segment of the homeless population. The homeless are overrepresented in our accident and emergency department, with their psychological and medical needs not being met in primary care. An integrated multi-disciplinary treatment approach, including outreach work, that addresses their many needs, appears to hold the greatest promise of success in this population.