Expert Citizens, Healthwatch Stoke-on-Trent, and VOICES have launched a card designed to help homeless people register with a doctor.
The card is designed so that homeless people and their support workers can easily remind GP practice staff that they have a right to access the primary healthcare that they need. NHS England sets out clear guidance stating that homeless people do not need to provide proof of identification when applying to register with a NHS doctor.
Despite this, homeless people are often asked to provide identification documents as a condition of registration with a practice.
People experiencing homelessness are among the most at risk of premature death.
“Homeless people are more likely to die young, with an average age of death of 47 years old and even lower for women at 43.”
Crisis & University of Sheffield (2012), “Homelessness Kills”, page 4.
Andy Meakin, Project Director at VOICES, said:
“The support of a GP is often vital for homeless people to secure access to other needed services. This includes mental health support, drug or alcohol treatment, or a social care intervention, for example. However, a GP may also be able to help people access housing and welfare benefits by providing evidence of their healthcare needs. Taken together, this can be the difference between starting or sustaining recovery and a continued life on the streets. I think that these cards will make a positive difference to earlier primary care access for homeless people.”
Late last year, Expert Citizens, Healthwatch Stoke-on-Trent, and VOICES published a report called “Gatekeepers: access to primary care for those with multiple needs”. The report found that only a quarter of the GP practices approached in Stoke-on-Trent agreed to register a homeless person that could not provide identification. You can read the report here:
Simmy Akhtar, Chief Officer at Healthwatch Stoke, said:
“The report that we have produced in partnership with Expert Citizens and VOICES clearly reflects the need to promote the rights of homeless individuals to see a GP when a medical issue arises. If access to the correct care is delayed or not provided in the early stages this will result in unnecessary suffering for the homeless individual and most likely will result in a visit to the local A&E. The cards are a useful reminder to all of this basic right to access GP services and we hope that they will prove to be a useful support for the homeless, GP staff and wider support networks.”
People experiencing homelessness are often high frequency users of emergency services. In the absence of easy access to primary care, homeless people may present at Accident and Emergency services inappropriately, or their health conditions may deteriorate to the point of crisis before help is sought. If homeless people can get earlier help with their health problems, this is likely to improve the experience of health services for everyone.
Darren Murinas, CEO of Expert Citizens CIC, said:
“If you can’t get an appointment with a doctor, because you’re not registered, and you have a painful physical or mental health issue, self-medication with drugs or alcohol may mask the symptoms for a time. But, that’s not sustainable. Eventually, you’re going to collapse and someone will call an ambulance. People can find themselves in A&E then hospital after declining in to a really poor state over a long time. After discharge, that cycle can then repeat. We believe it’s better to make earlier effective treatment as accessible as possible. It can only help. So, we’re really pleased that these cards will be a useful reminder of homeless people’s rights to early healthcare.”
For more information contact VOICES on 01782 450760 or firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to download a high resolution PDF of the cards to print and distribute from your service they are available for download here