GPs struggling to care for homeless patients following cuts in support

Cuts in funding for services to support homeless people have piled pressure on general practice, GP leaders have warned.

Homeless people arriving at A&E rising (Photo: Michael Mann/Getty Images)

A BMA report last week found hospitals were dealing with a 'skyrocketing number' of homeless patients. It showed a three-fold increase in the number of attendances to emergency departments by patients with no permanent residence.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said practices were also facing increased pressure, because cuts to services such as alcohol and addiction centres had left GPs without specialist support to help homeless patients.

He called for more funding for services homeless patients 'need and deserve', and warned that pathways between surgeries and dedicated homelessness services needed to be strengthened.

Homeless patients

Figures provided by hospital trusts in England obtained by the BMA found that during 2018/19, over 36,000 homeless people attended emergency departments, compared with 11,305 in 2010/11.

Dr Vautrey said: 'GPs are acutely aware of homelessness in their communities, and many patients in this situation have unique health needs that require close monitoring and treatment.

'Where possible, practices will always try to register people in their area, even without a permanent address, but it can be difficult to provide effective care without the support from specialist groups and organisations that can help practices to improve the overall quality of life to this very vulnerable group.

'Many surgeries are affiliated with dedicated homelessness services, but there must be improved access to these pathways and more investment put into these schemes so that patients continue to receive the help they need and deserve.'

Complex needs

Brighton GP and education fellow for the Pathway homeless charity Dr Christopher Sargeant said: ‘Services that homeless people need – from help with mental health and overcoming drug and alcohol dependence, to housing, have been cut. This means an increase in the numbers of homeless patients going to a surgery and with increasingly complex needs.

'It also means a rise in the number of premature deaths in this group because for many even walking into a GP practice and getting an appointment is an obstacle many do not overcome.

‘There is much that can be done to improve current systems but increasing access to good primary care early on and access to vital services that people can rely on and trust is a very good place to start.’

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins


Already registered?

Sign in

Just published

Clinical trials: Microscope in a lab

GPs could be incentivised to recruit patients onto commercial clinical trials

GPs could be offered incentives to recruit patients onto commercial clinical trials...

Talking General Practice logo

Podcast: How many GPs do we need for safe general practice, pay restoration, the state of premises

Talking General Practice looks at safe working limits and the number of GPs we need...

Stethoscope and a computer

EMIS to keep panic button after outcry from GPs

EMIS, one of the main GP IT system providers, has backtracked on plans to phase out...

Health minister Lord Markham

Health minister Lord Markham: How we will support GPs to offer patients greater choice

Health minister Lord Markham explains what the government's plans for using the NHS...

Patient receives the flu vaccine

Flu vaccination campaign to return to pre-pandemic cohorts this year

This year's flu vaccination campaign is set to be reduced after it was expanded during...

Plant-based diet

Vegan and vegetarian diets can play key role in reducing cardiovascular risk, study finds

Plant-based diets can play a significant role in lowering the risk of stroke and...