A GP practice in Greater Manchester has agreed to become ‘homeless-friendly’ to ensure all patients receive great care regardless of whether or not they have a permanent address.
The Hopwood Medical Centre in Heywood, Manchester took the decision as part of a programme encouraging surgeries to help rough sleepers access services such as housing, training and addiction treatment.
The Homeless-Friendly programme was created by national health campaigner Dr Zahid Chauhan and launched last year by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham with the aim of supporting the homeless and those on the verge of losing their home.
Last year, eight practices and one out-of-hours emergency service started to treat homeless patients as part of the scheme.
Dr Chauhan said: ‘When people are worried about debt, unemployment and paying the rent this can manifest itself in conditions such as stress, heart problems and alcohol dependency. There are [also] many patients doctors see who suffer chest problems because they live in damp, squalid conditions.’
The Hopwood Medical Centre has been particularly active in identifying this group of patients, also known as the ‘hidden homeless’ and has been ahead of the game when it comes to treating them.
Hopwood GP Dr Zahir Mohammed said: ‘We do have homeless patients and those of no fixed abode who we have already started registering using our surgery address.
Hopwood Medical Centre practice manager Adele Hardacre added: ‘Like many areas of the UK, Heywood has a mixture of affluent and less affluent areas.
‘Part of our community is experiencing real financial pressures and is living in temporary accommodation, on the verge of homelessness. We are committed to ensuring a quality service for all of our patients and want them to know that a lack of fixed address should never be a barrier to receiving healthcare.
‘We are proud to be pioneers in the Homeless-Friendly programme and hope we inspire other practice managers and their staff to make a public commitment to caring for the most vulnerable people in our society.’
Improved access to care
Rough sleepers in some part of the country said they were being refused medical attention because they could not prove residency, according to Homeless-Friendly.
Although homeless people do not need to provide an address to be able to access GP care, they might be put off from approaching a GP practice if they are asked to provide a proof of address.
Research by Homeless Link – which represents organisations working with homelessness and supported housing issues – showed that nearly than three-quarters of homeless people have physical health problems while 80% experience mental health issues.
Dr Chauhan said: ‘Such desperate health problems should mean that the homeless receive the best healthcare but sadly many don’t visit the surgery and instead present at A&E when the situation becomes desperate.
‘The Hopwood Medical Centre is a trailblazer for other surgeries to follow and more importantly, is sending out the message that high quality healthcare is for everyone.’