Homelessness right to healthcare initiative wins big

The scheme comes amid reports that find homeless people 60 times more likely to visit A&E in a year than the general population.

Becky, Matt Harrison, Jenny

As new research revealed the extent of health problems among people experiencing homelessness, healthcare cards could be the key to ease the admission of those sleeping rough to A&E.

According to the British Journal of General Practice, homeless people in England are 60 times more likely to visit A&E in a year than the general population.

Report author Dr Vibhu Paudyal cited that access to GP surgeries for homeless was a key difficulty, suggesting that limited access to preventable primary care via a GP could be contributing to the dramatic use of A&E.

In 2016, peer-led research – More than a Statistic – delivered by Groundswell and the Healthy London Partnership revealed that one of the key barriers people who are homeless face to getting healthcare is registering and making use of a GP practice.

“When you try to register with a doctor and they send you away because you are homeless you just end up stuck… Some of us have got mental health problems, some physical health problems, and a lot of the time it might be those problems that have landed us in homelessness to begin with.

“When these problems aren’t going to get looked at because you don’t have an address, then we are just going to be in a vicious cycle,” said one research participant.

In response, Groundswell and the Healthy London Partnership produced ‘My Right to Healthcare’ cards.

The cards, which are produced in the same style as a credit or business card, emphasise that when registering with a GP:

  • You do not need a fixed address
  • You do not need identification
  • Your immigration status does not matter

The cards are distributed to hostels, night shelters, day centres and foodbanks, which hand them out to people experiencing homelessness, and, to date, Groundswell, along with partners in the homelessness and housing sector, have distributed over 65,000 cards across London.

Last night, at the Homeless Link Excellence Awards, Groundswell won an award under ‘communicating for change’ for the healthcare cards.

The award celebrates the impact communications can have to engage, change behaviour, and improve lives.

Groundswell is also said to have been working with NHS England to carry out consultations with people experiencing homelessness across the country, with the NHS looking to adapt the cards and roll them out nationally.

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