VulnerAble – improving the health of those in isolated and vulnerable situations

Social Platform is involved in the ‘VulnerAble‘ EU-funded project, led by ICF International. The work is carried out in partnership with EuroHealthNet, GfK (Society for Consumer Researh), University College London’s Institute of Health Equity, and our member European Public Health Alliance (EPHA).

This European initiative will increase our understanding of how we can improve the health of people who are living in vulnerable and isolated situations across Europe. The project targets specific vulnerable and isolated populations such as children and families from disadvantaged backgrounds; those living in rural/isolated areas; those with physical, mental and learning disabilities or poor mental health; the long-term unemployed; the inactive; the working poor; older people; victims of domestic violence and intimate partner violence; people with unstable housing situations (the homeless); and prisoners.

Due to their circumstances, these groups may be more at risk of poor health and/or face barriers in accessing healthcare services. The project will assess their particular health needs and challenges, as well as identify best practices to support them and ultimately improve their health.

The first phase of the project is aimed at better understanding and assessing the particular health needs and risk factors faced by the abovementioned groups. This is being done by interviewing 20 experts from organisations who work on the issue of health inequalities, representative bodies of vulnerable groups, local and regional authorities, academics and international and EU level organisations active in this field.

The first results arising from this preliminary phase are the following:

  • All identified groups were seen as vulnerable to health inequalities, but in different ways.
  • Our target groups can be internally diverse; for example, many children and older people are perfectly healthy, despite them as a group being at risk of experiencing poor health.
  • Membership of some groups can be both a symptom and a cause of bad health, such as those in unstable housing situations.
  • Some additional target groups identified as being vulnerable (Roma, migrants and asylum-seekers) – however, they do not form part of the scope of this project.
  • The need to ensure access to user-friendly and appropriate health information emerged as a clear theme for many of the sub-groups.
  • Having limited financial resources and low socioeconomic status is a cross-cutting issue that can cause poor health; for example, it can limit the ability to afford medicines, rule out travel to hospitals, etc).
  • ‘Peer-led’ approaches were also identified as being particularly helpful when targeting those in recovery from addiction, with mental health issues and/or the homeless.
  • Gender and age are cross-cutting factors that may impact upon health status, the nature of services required, the way in which services are delivered and the level of access for individual groups.
  • The impact of the financial crisis and austerity measures across Europe in exacerbating health inequalities.

The next stage of the project will be to conduct surveys to scope the needs and challenges of these groups in 12 Member States. We will keep you informed about the outcomes of the most relevant stages of the project.