Healthcare for the Homeless

Huge Support As Healthwatch West Berkshire Launches My Right To Healthcare Card For Homeless!

In response to the findings of its Homeless and Rough Sleepers Report 2018, Healthwatch West Berkshire is continuing to champion the rights of rough sleepers/homeless in our community. Therefore, in partnership with the West Berkshire Health and Wellbeing Board Homeless Strategy Group, Healthwatch West Berkshire has launched the West Berkshire My Right To Healthcare card, in an effort to improve the healthcare outcomes of those who are homeless or rough sleeping in our local region.

It has been proven that being homeless and rough sleeping can have a hugely damaging effect on an individual’s physical and mental health, and that often these people have complex health issues. Nationally (and locally) there is still evidence that GP surgeries are turning away these vulnerable people, as they may have no ID, no fixed address or have no proof of their immigration status. However, this is against NHS patient registration guidelines, which state that an individual does not need a fixed address, does not need identification and that their immigration status is irrelevant. In addition, as often the homeless person must then turn to the local Accident and Emergency department for healthcare, it adds to the pressure on our acute and emergency services.

Therefore, in order to make it easier for those who are homeless or rough sleeping to access healthcare provision, the West Berkshire My Right To Healthcare card has been designed in partnership with the Health & Well Being Board and Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group to remind staff in GP practices of the NHS England registration guidelines and to provide hospital discharge teams with the contact information of West Berkshire Housing (to ensure provision of shelter to aid recovery post discharge). The card also includes a range of information, which may be vital for a homeless individual’s health and wellbeing, such as: West Berkshire Winter Housing Provision telephone numbers and times of service, local homeless charities information, the telephone number of the Mental Health Crisis Team – and a space for the person’s name and NHS number (if it is known).

Homelessness continues to be a key issue in West Berkshire, with the number of homelessness people in the area worryingly above national levels. Our role at Healthwatch West Berkshire is to provide a voice to everyone, this includes those who are homeless or rough sleeping. By launching the West Berkshire My Right To Healthcare card we hope to assist this seldom heard group to gain the healthcare that they are entitled to,” said Andrew Sharp, Chief Officer of Healthwatch West Berkshire. “The card is simple and clear, stating: ‘I do not need a fixed address, I do not need identification. My immigration status does not matter'”.

Each card also includes our telephone number, along with a range of relevant information regarding local healthcare, housing and charities. With the extreme cold of winter only just hitting West Berkshire, we hope that the card will ensure that everyone is aware of the rights of the homeless regarding healthcare provision, and that those in this vulnerable group will be able to access and improve their health and social care outcomes in our community.

Meryl Praill, Founder & Trustee of the Newbury Soup Kitchen (part of the Haven West Berkshire charity) commented: “The My Right To Healthcare card is a welcome addition in the West Berkshire area. Conditions are extremely challenging for those who are homeless or rough sleeping at this time of year. Anything that helps to make life a little easier for these individuals, especially when they are seeking health and social care advice and services, is to be applauded. So, we would like to say thank you to everyone involved in getting the card into the hands of those who need it.

Andrew Sharp goes on to say: “I was delighted to meet with our local MP, Richard Benyon, in Parliament last week to show him the card. He said he thought it was a terrific idea and would put one of the cards in Secretary Of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock’s hand that very day, which is hugely encouraging with Homelessness a problem that all of the UK is struggling with currently.

The Healthwatch West Berkshire team will be distributing the West Berkshire My Right To Healthcare cards to the homeless via a range of charities and organisations, including: Loose Ends, Newbury Soup Kitchen, Two Saints, and Swanswell; as well as the West Berkshire Housing team, the Job Centre and West Berkshire Citizens Advice Bureau.

Anyone wishing to know more about the West Berkshire My Right to Healthcare card should visit the Healthwatch West Berkshire website at: http://www.heathwatchwestberks.org.uk or telephone the team at: 01635 760 341

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