A Manchester-based social enterprise is to launch a new hotline for homeless patients who struggle to access GP care.
Homeless Friendly, an initiative that signposts practices as particularly welcoming to patients sleeping rough, is to introduce the hotline.
The service will direct patients towards GP surgeries who will register people without a fixed address, and advocate on their behalf when they struggle to access care.
The hotline is set to be rolled out nationally in the next few months and will be staffed by volunteers.
The programme is also launching a card for homeless patients to keep, which will clearly state their rights to access GP care despite not having a permanent address.
The card will be given to the organisations Homeless Friendly works with and distributed among homeless patients, so they can present it to GP practices if they struggle to be seen by a medical professional.
Homeless Friendly founder and national health campaigner Dr Zahid Chauhan said: ‘Lots of people are contacting us; doctors, nurses and laymen, saying “we want to [help] – what can we do?”’
He added: ‘At the moment we are funding it ourselves, [with help from participating] practices. ‘We have support from at least 20 GP surgeries in Greater Manchester, and we also have support from NHS social enterprise hub Bardoc, a founding member of Homeless Friendly.’
Homeless Friendly was set up in September 2017 to help homeless patients access general practice services, after finding that many were struggling to register with a GP practice.
The not-for-profit organisation discovered that although NHS England guidelines state that homeless patients have the right to register at a practice without a permanent address, some patients sleeping rough were still being turned away.
Dr Chauhan referred to situations where ‘a patient does not have an address and cannot access GP care and therefore does not get their ‘basic health needs managed’ as a ‘vicious cycle’.
He said: ‘As a society we need to examine our policies and ask if they are helping people or causing more problems? At the moment these policies are making the problem worse, rather than helping.’
The Homeless Friendly plans for a hotline and card to help rough sleepers access GP cares come after a BMA survey revealed in January that the number of homeless patients accessign general practice has increased over the past five years.
More than a quarter of the 178 GPs responding to the survey said a large number of homeless patients had visited their practice over the past five years.
Nearly a fifth, 18%, said their practice now dedicates more time and resources to homeless patients than they did five years ago.
Homless Friendly was also recently granted funding by supermarket chain Waitrose to offer food bank starter kits in GP practices in Manchester.