The Royal College of Nursing (RNC) expressed its concerns for the lack of NHS care for people without a fixed address.
Janet Davies, Chief Executive at RNC, has asked ministers and the NHS to plan a scheme to help homeless people get registered with a GP surgery.
In an opinion piece for The Big Issue, Ms Davies said that it is harder for rough sleepers to access primary and secondary care, especially when it comes to mental health services. In fact, those who are not registered with a GP do not have the possibility of receiving a specialist referral.
This month, the RCN and The Big Issue began a three-year partnership that will see the RCN involved in sponsoring the iconic red tabards worn by street vendors.
‘A nurse’s role focuses on maximising potential and enabling independence – which is why we believe supporting the work of The Big Issue is so relevant for us,’ Ms Davies said.
Practice managers need to be aware that people who are homeless may decide not to approach a GP because they are sometimes asked for ID or proof of address, according to Healthy London Partnership.
For this reason, they have produced ‘My right to access healthcare cards’, which they later distributed in shelters, day centres, and food banks across London.
‘It has been stated that 30,000 cards have been sent out to a variety of support organisations. The Healthy London Partnership need to be able to identify how many cards have actually been issued to individuals and where these patients are registering,’ said co-chair of the Practice Management Network Steve Williams.
These cards can be carried by rough sleepers any time they visit a GP, in order to make it easier for GP receptionists and members of staff in general to remember NHS England national patient registration guidance.
This guidance clearly states that people do not need a fixed address or identification to register or access treatment at GP practices.
The practice may use its own address to register these patients but Mr Williams said that doing so could lead to major difficulties in patient-doctor communications.
‘The initiative is positive. However, the actual issue of homelessness is much bigger than GP registration.
‘It is estimated that there may be 8,000 homeless people in London alone, equivalent to the practice population of an average sized practice.
‘One of the issues that will present itself is that if a patient was to register using the practice address as the registered address, how will the practice ensure that it can maintain communication with that patient?’