GPs in Scotland should not discriminate against gypsies, report warns

GPs in Scotland have been reminded by GPC Scotland not to discriminate against gypsies after a report identified inequalities in access to healthcare.

Dr Alan McDevitt: GPC Scotland chairman
Dr Alan McDevitt: GPC Scotland chairman

A report published by the Scottish government’s Equal Opportunities Committee this week said there should be no barriers to gypsies and members of the travelling community having access to healthcare.

GPC Scotland chairman Dr Alan McDevitt reminded practices not to refuse a patient registration to members of the gypsy or travelling community if they cannot provide proof of address.

‘A GP practice cannot refuse a patient registration for reasons relating to race, sex, social class etc,' he said. 'If practices were found to be discriminating against gypsy or travellers on that basis, then that is not acceptable.

‘Although many practices ask patients to present proof of address or identification as part of the registration process, this in itself should not be a barrier to registration if the patient is resident in the practice’s catchment area.’

The report said the committee had heard of instances where GPs were refusing to register a patient on the grounds that they had no fixed address or photographic identification, or that they cannot guarantee they will stay in the area for three months.

‘We were also told of surgeries that would refuse to register gypsy/traveller patients after having difficulties with previous gypsy/traveller patients missing appointments,' it said.

The report urged the Scottish government to take action to stop GP practices refusing to register gypsies or travellers.

‘That any individual could be turned away from what should be a free, universal healthcare system was one of the most alarming pieces of evidence we heard,' it said.

'We urge the minister to report to us, clarifying what obstacles exist, on what steps can be taken to stop the practice of refusing GP treatment and/or registration to gypsy/travellers – and, indeed, to anybody who requires it, irrespective of background or housing arrangements.’

The committee also heard that some gypsies and travellers travel hundreds of miles to see a trusted GP or midwife.

Commenting on the registration of gypsies and members of travelling communites, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: 'NHS Boards are responsible for providing primary medical services and for ensuring that these services recognise cultural diversity and respond to the healthcare needs of all ethnic groups and communities.'

She added: 'There should be no barriers to gypsies or travellers accessing or receiving health services and the GP registration regulations apply equally to members of the travelling and settled populations.'

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