December 1, 2016
Imagine you have been forced to flee your home and your country. You have left your family and friends behind, made a perilous journey over land and sea, and have finally reached the UK. And you are 25 weeks pregnant. You know you need antenatal care so you go to your local GP, but the man at the front desk tells you that you don’t have the right paperwork so he cannot register you.
Pregnant women, children, refugees and homeless people are among the vulnerable people being wrongly turned away from GP surgeries in the UK. A new report from Doctors of the World UK has found that at least two in five people attempting to register with doctor’s surgeries are being wrongly refused. The biggest barrier was people’s inability to provide paperwork – be that ID or proof of address or proof.
Everyone living in the UK is entitled to free primary care and GPs are our frontline defence against poor public and personal ill health. NHS guidelines that were issued in November last year state that patients do not need proof of ID or address to register and see a doctor, but inconsistent and unclear guidance in the past has led to confusion in some practices that mean people are still being turned away by surgery staff.
“People who attempt to register with a GP and are often turned away because of a lack of understanding of frontline staff about the documents which are needed to register,” says Phil Murwill, manager of Doctor of the World’s Bethnal Green clinic in London.
“The people we see at the clinic who have been turned away include pregnant women, mums with children, people who have survived trafficking experiences, people suffering from PTSD-like symptoms, people who really need access timely and appropriate care. If we leave them in a vulnerable situation, their own health will deteriorate, meaning there’ll be greater pressure on other parts of the NHS at a later date.”
Doctors of the World recommend that GP practice administrative and clinical staff are trained on entitlement to NHS care and also that they receive training working with vulnerable patients. GP practices must ensure their services are accessible for vulnerable individuals and sensitive to their needs, including providing appointment booking options for those without access to a phone or the internet, and that interpreters are used when needed.
“This report highlights a significant and serious problem,” says Leigh Daynes, the Executive Director of Doctors of the World. “Everyone living in the UK is entitled to free primary care, GPs are our frontline defense against poor public and personal ill-health. The early detection and treatment of illness by GPs is the most cost-effective and efficient means of managing health.”