GP practices have dealt with a growing number of homeless patients over the last five years, a BMA survey has found.
Over a quarter of the 178 GPs who responded to a BMA survey said a larger number of homeless patients visited their practice in the last five years.
Some of the respondents (18%) said their practice now dedicate greater time and resources to homeless patients, compared to five years ago.
The findings were published as part of a wider BMA investigation – published today – which revealed that hospitals have seen a threefold rise in the number of homeless patients presenting to A&Es since 2011.
As part of the long term plan, NHS England has allocated £30m to meet the health needs of those with no fixed abode, money that will also be used to improve access to specialist NHS mental health services.
Victims blamed and stigmatised
Health and social care cuts mean the most vulnerable in society are receiving poorer protection from the system, the BMA said.
According to the organisation, this is compounded by the fact that homeless patients are suffering from a series of increasingly complex physical and mental health conditions.
BMA public health medicine committee chair Dr Peter English said: ‘If this was some disease causing all these problems it would be a much higher priority but because victims can be blamed and stigmatised it is easy for Government to ignore.
‘The growing numbers of rough sleepers and vulnerably housed people in our society is a continuing tragedy. To stand by silently as our NHS faces increasing strain and our society becomes increasingly unequal would be unacceptable.’
Several practices across England have launched or joined initiatives to better care for homeless patients in their communities.
As Management in Practice previously reported, the Birches Medical Practice in Scunthorpe decided to open its shower facilities to homeless peoplein the town, while nine practices in Greater Manchester joined The Homeless-Friendly programme, launched last year by national health campaigner Dr Zahid Chauhan.
NHS England requires practices to register homeless patients and practices can use their surgery’s address to do so.
GP and founder of The Homeless-Friendly programme Dr Zahid Chauhan told Management in Practice: ‘The reality is that homelessness is rising and rough sleepers with everything from mental to dental health issues will be presenting.
‘These patients are entitled to exactly the same quality healthcare as the rest of the community. Proof of permanent address should never be a barrier and refusal to treat a person experiencing homelessness goes against national guidelines.
What we have seen through the Homeless-Friendly programme is not only a better understanding of patients who are not in fixed accommodation, but a willingness from practices to become hubs of homeless care.
‘Practice managers have made themselves aware of local social services and sign-posted patients to organisations helping those enduring food poverty or mental health issues, while others have even based foodbanks within their premises.’