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Doctors must stop turning homeless people away when they need health care, according to new research.
The study, which has been done by Groundswell, looked at the barriers homeless people experience when they try to access health care in London.
Those interviewed said they were often turned away because they were homeless, though this is against NHS policy.
One man told researchers: “I had a kidney infection and I was in pain. And then about a week, two weeks after I couldn’t go to the doctor anymore because I had been unregistered, because I had not used the service in two years.
“What do you want me to do? Break a leg and just walk in?”
“I found it bizarre and frustrating, because then I can’t re-register... because I can’t use the address any more, because I don’t live there any more.”
Another said: “It’s so difficult to register with a GP. They can say to you: No, we won’t take you. And if you have got no home, if you are No Fixed Address (NFA), it’s even harder to register.”
A third said that physical and mental health issues that had caused homelessness got worse because they went untreated, creating a vicious cycle of poor health and homelessness.
Other studies have shown that nearly three-quarters of homeless people have physical health problems and eight in 10 report mental health difficulties.
The Groundswell research, funded by the London Homeless Health Programme (LHHP), was led by people who have been homeless themselves, who spoke to 100 people across London about their experiences of using the NHS.
They found it was “common” for people to be refused access to a GP because they had no identification, no fixed address or immigration status.
A spokesman for Groundswell said: “The fact is this is against NHS rules and you have a right to see a GP whoever you are and whatever your housing situation. It is important that GP surgeries realise this so homeless people get the healthcare they are entitled to.”
Susan Harrison, head of the LHHP, said it was planning to give out 10,000 cards that people can use when they go to GP surgeries to help homeless people challenge GPs who turn them away.
She added: “The London Homeless Health Programme was developed because homelessness in a big problem in London, and people who don’t have somewhere to live need good health care like everyone else.”
Remember that you have a right to register and use a GP Practice:
You do not need a fixed address
You do not need identification
Your immigration status does not matter
If you have any difficulty registering with a GP Practice, remind staff that the doctor needs to see you according to: ‘The GP Patient Registration Standard Operating Principles for Primary Medical Care’
Contact Healthwatch for free advice: 03000 68 3000; www.healthwatch.co.uk
All decisions can be appealed. First, the DWP can be asked to make a ‘mandatory reconsideration’. If after this stage you still disagree with the decision, you can take it to an independent tribunal and appeal the decision there. More than half of the original decisions are overturned.
Citizens Advice can help. Contact them on 0300 330 1162.