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Monday, 9 December, 2002, 00:01 GMT
Homeless people 'failed by NHS'
Homeless people
Homeless people less likely to be registered with a GP
Homeless people are being failed by the NHS, a charity has warned.

The Crisis charity says homeless people are forced to turn to already over-stretched A&E departments for care because they are unable to register with GPs.

It says the lack of early help often means relatively minor problems become emergencies - and the cost to the NHS of an A&E visit is almost three times that of GP care.

A survey by Mori for the charity suggests homeless people are 40 times more likely than members of the general public not to be registered with a GP.


Having to go to A&E when an untreated problem reaches crisis point is no way to access healthcare in the 21st century


Shaks Ghosh, Crisis
One hundred homeless people in London aged between 18 and 25 were interviewed for the study.

Over half had not had any contact with a GP in the previous year, and 43% had attended A&E because they had been unable to speak to a GP.

Four out of five said they had visited A&E, with one in 10 attending at least once a month.

Distracted

Crisis said the homeless had a complex range of health problems, with a third suffering mental illness, addiction and a physical health problem.

It added that some homeless people could be distracted from a physical health problem by their mental health problems - for example someone with severe mental illness could continue to walk on a broken ankle for weeks rather than seeking help.

Four out of five GPs surveyed by Mori said they believed it was more difficult for a homeless person to register at a surgery than an average person.

Ninety per cent of the 104 GPs questioned felt they needed more resources to provide the same level of access to the homeless.

'Equal access'

Crisis said homeless patients might experience difficulties registering with GPs because surgeries lacked the necessary time or resources, or because of the attitudes of staff or the homeless themselves.

But it said the problem often lay in a mistaken belief that homeless patients could not register without an address.

To counter that belief, the charity is calling on the Department of Health to issue clarifying guidance to GPs.

Shaks Ghosh, chief executive of Crisis, said: "Having to go to A&E when an untreated problem reaches crisis point is no way to access healthcare in the 21st century.

"Even worse, the treatment received can be rendered useless if a homeless person is discharged into a filthy squat, a damp B&B room or back onto the streets with no one to take care of them."

She added: "Homeless people's health problems cannot be adequately tackled until they have equal access to mainstream healthcare.

"Until their health improves, homelessness cannot be solved.

"The government needs to take leadership by ensuring that all homeless people get the support they need to permanently register with a GP."

'Nowhere to go'

A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association said: "We recognise the difficulties some homeless people face in finding a GP, particularly at a time when so many GPs are having to close lists to any new patient.

"However, we hope the flexibility of the new GP contract will make it easier for special provision to be made for homeless people where necessary."

But Professor John Henry, A&E consultant at St Mary's Hospital, London, said: "In general, the homeless and disadvantaged end up in A&E because they've got no other channel to go to."

See also:

07 Aug 00 | Health
31 Aug 01 | Health
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