Vulnerable people without a fixed address are being turned away from GP surgeries, new research has found, despite NHS guidelines that say they should receive treatment.
Charity Friends, Families and Travellers had a mystery shopper posing as a person without proof of address or identification who had just moved to the area contact 50 surgeries around England. Nearly half would not register her.
Of those contacted, 24 would refused to register the mystery shopper either as a permanent patient or as a temporary patient. That included 17 GP practices that would not register people without proof of identification, 12 that would not register people without an address and one which said they would only register people online. Two GP practices were called multiple times on different days but never picked up the phone.
The NHS guidelines say that there is “no regulatory requirement” for someone applying to become a patient to prove their identity, address, immigration status or NHS number.
Following the report, Secretary of State for Healthy and Social Care Matt Hancock will today receive a letter signed by more than 30 charities and human rights organisations including Homeless Link, Liberty, Mind and Race Equality Foundation demanding action is taken to address the issue.
Experts want the government to set up a taskforce which will ensure nobody is wrongfully denied access to healthcare.
Kit, who lives on board a boat and travels the canals of England trading antique china, said: “I only persisted with attempting to register because I knew I actually had cancer.
“It has turned out to be a stage 3 cancer.
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“There were three tumours and five affected lymph nodes. Despite the fact that I knew my rights, provided information on registering at a GP’s address and articulated my case, I had to compromise my confidentiality on two occasions to access belated care for an aggressive, life-threatening disease which could have been caught years earlier.”
The research was focused on the experiences of the 80,000 travellers in England but applies to other vulnerable groups including homeless people, asylum seekers and refugees plus people fleeing domestic violence.
All but two of the GP practices contacted were rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) for their work with vulnerable people.
A spokesperson for the NHS argued against the findings, pointing out that the research represented less than one per cent of GP surgeries and that everyone in England has the legal right to choose their own GP.
But Sarah Sweeney, communications and health policy co-ordinator at Friends, Families and Travellers, described “longstanding and stubborn” issues around vulnerable groups’ access to primary care.
She added: “The communities affected by this issue are caught in a catch 22 where they are both at high risk of poor health and also find it much harder to access healthcare.”
Deputy chief inspector of general practice at CQC Ruth Rankine said the findings were “concerning”.