Health issues and access to services- Gypsies/Travellers

Health issues

Aside from some localised needs assessment work (for example NHS FifeNHS Health Scotland), there is little Scottish specific research into the healthcare needs and experiences of Gypsies/Travellers and the travelling community; however, much can be learnt from other UK countries.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission review, Inequalities experienced by Gypsy and Traveller communities, draws together the evidence from across a wide range of Gypsies/Travellers´ experiences from the UK in order to set out clearly the full extent of the inequalities and discrimination facing this group. The review covers a range of factors such as health, education, social work and criminal justice, and it includes a focus on the policy context in Scotland.

The paper The health of Gypsies and Travellers in the UK draws attention to some examples of good practice to improve access to and uptake of health services by Gypsies and Travellers.

Parry et al’s (2004) report, The Health Status of Gypsies & Travellers in England, shows that Gypsies/Travellers have significantly poorer health than other UK-resident English-speaking ethnic minorities and economically disadvantaged white UK residents. They are also more likely to suffer from miscarriages, still births, the death of young babies and older children.

The All Ireland Traveller health study, funded by the Department of Health, was an extensive and systematic study of Irish Travellers’ health and found stark health inequalities. For example, travellers of all ages have much higher mortality rates than people in the general population. Overall there is a 15 per cent higher rate of smoking among Travellers compared to the general population and suicide is six times the rate of general population, accounting for approximately 11 per cent of all travellers’ deaths.

Research commissioned by Shelter has shown that Gypsies/Travellers in England who move into houses suffer poorer health than those who are living on a site or on the road.

Access to services

The report Insights into the use of the Hand-Held Record and other methods of NHS engagement with Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland was produced by NHS Health Scotland as a result of the Equal Opportunities Committee third report from the Gypsy/Traveller and Care Inquiry.

The Hidden Carers, Unheard Voices research by the Minority Ethnic Carers of Older People Project (MECOPP) into Carers within the Gypsy/Traveller community highlights qualitative research into the often informal caring structures within the Gypsy/Traveller community. Findings included Gypsies/Travellers not feeling listened to and a reluctance to engage with services unless there is a trusted contact.

There is a body of evidence from small scale research in various locations in England which provides insight into access to services:

  • Research with Gypsy/Travellers and GPs in Sheffield found a common experience of Gypsies/Travellers was difficulty in gaining access to GPs. There were several contributory causes, including reluctance of GPs to register Travellers or visit sites, practical problems of access whilst travelling, mismatch of expectations between Travellers and health staff, and attitudinal barriers.
  • According to research from the University of Brighton and NHS Brighton and Hove, there are a number of complex and diverse social, cultural and environmental barriers that prevent many Gypsies/Travellers accessing essential health care services across Sussex and throughout England such as racism, lack of knowledge of Gypsy/Traveller culture from NHS staff and inadequate healthcare provision for Gypsies/Travellers.
  • Mapping the Gypsy Traveller community in England: what we know about their health service provision and childhood immunization uptake explores what is known about local Gypsy Traveller populations, estimates immunisation rates and describes current services to increase immunisation as well as to address wider health issues.  It found that there is an ongoing need to improve knowledge of population numbers and the provision of and access to services that are culturally sensitive and responsive to the needs of Gypsy Traveller communities.  Immunisation services are only one component of a wider strategy for improving the health of Gypsy Travellers through effective health and social care interventions.

Updated April 2015

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