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As all of us who work with people with no fixed address are keenly aware, primary care is a critical touch point for those who might not otherwise access services. It is an essential gateway and every effort should be made to enable access. Not being registered with a GP is a significant barrier to accessing other services that people who are without a home often need, such as social care, mental health and addiction recovery services. This inevitably adds to the pressures on acute services such as A and E. At a time when the NHS is under significant strain, it makes sense to enable fast and efficient GP registration so that people in need aren’t driven to using A and E services once they’ve reached crisis point. Registration would not only ensure that they are provided with the healthcare they need and deserve, but would also provide the opportunity for assessment to determine how urgent it may be for individual patients to be vaccinated against COVID.  

Given this, the MHCLG Secretary of State last month instructed local authorities to make sure everyone brought in, where they are not already, is registered with a GP. Since then, Homeless Link and others have continued to work with NHS England to amplify the need to register clients with GPs. As part of this, NHS England has developed a GP access card, which sets out the right to register. The card makes it clear that to register, you do not need a fixed address; you do not need identification; and your immigration status does not matter. Once registered, patients are entitled to use all the services in the GP practice. At the same time, NHS England will also be working with GPs, PCNs and CCGs directly, to ensure that they are ready to register with the goal of making GP practices as welcoming as possible. You can find an information leaflet here.  

But what happens if a client presents their GP access card, yet still gets refused? We know that this has been the case far too often in the past. If clients do still encounter this response, you can support your client to make a complaint to NHS England, as set out here

GP registration will open the door to many services for your clients and is always desirable. However, it is not essential for your clients to be registered with a GP in order to be vaccinated against COVID. A number local authorities, for example, Liverpool, Oldham and Redbridge, have already offered people with no home the opportunity to be vaccinated .To find out what’s happening for clients in your area, contact your local Director of Public Health and ask what steps they are taking to follow the JCVI guidance to achieve high vaccine uptake amongst people subject to health inequalities, including people with no home. Ask to see their local action plan. Please do let us know what you find out via your Homeless Link Partnership Manager or by emailing me directly.  

Those who would like to learn more about the NHS England plan to boost the rate of GP registration amongst those who have no home can view our webinar, recorded on 25 January. You can get copies of the NHS England GP access card from your local Healthwatch.