Homeless people sleeping in the Royal Free Hospital’s A&E for ‘a wash and warmth’

Hampstead High Street. Picture: Ken Mears

Hampstead High Street. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Homeless people are sleeping in Royal Free Hospital’s accident and emergency department at night to avoid sleeping on the streets, according to a policing meeting.

Hampstead High Street. Picture: Ken Mears

Hampstead High Street. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Chair of the Hampstead Town Safer Neighbourhood Panel, Susan West, said she had visited the Royal Free's A&E in the early hours of the morning on a handful of occasions last year. She added that on each visit she saw at least one or two homeless people asleep on chairs in the waiting room.

Jeremy Sharp, the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust's director of facilities, told the meeting that he was aware of it taking place and it was still happening.

He said: "It's a public building. It is one of the challenges for our organisation. It does happen, people come in to have a wash and it's somewhere warm. We do have security personnel who are trained it to liaise with the right bodies and move them on."

Speaking to this newspaper about her experiences at the A&E in Pond Street, Ms West said: "When you're in A&E you're understandably worried about what is wrong with you, it does make you feel extra vulnerable. You can't relax because you're worried about who these people are and if they're okay. An important question to ask is why these people are where they are, and are they being helped?"

A Royal Free Hospital spokesperson said it doesn't record the amount of homeless people attending A&E. They added that the hospital doesn't work with Routes Off The Streets, a Camden Council body which tries to help homeless people, as well as beggars and street prostitutes. Instead it liaises with Muswell Hill-based Next Meal which can direct homeless people to food and support.

At the last homelessness count in November 2018, Camden Council staff found 141 people on the borough's streets.

Most Read

A Royal Free spokesperson said: "When homeless people attend our emergency department they are assessed by a clinician. If they don't require treatment we make every effort to put them in contact with alternative local organisations who can help. Going into winter, our emergency department will be extremely busy and staff prioritise people who need the most urgent care."