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)
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.’

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