Dr Paul O'Reilly
dr o’reilly local heroes 2016 3x2
Every Wednesday night, Dr O’Reilly walks the streets of central London. As a GP partner at the country’s largest specialist practice for homeless people, Dr O’Reilly is looking for rough sleepers hoping to persuade them to visit his surgery for care.
‘It’s really useful to go out and meet rough sleepers and put them in touch with the medical and social services that are in a position to help,’ he tells Pulse.
Being part of this local authority-run scheme isn’t the only way that Dr O’Reilly, a Jesuit priest, goes above and beyond his day-to-day work as a GP.
Nominated for the work that he does ‘with the most vulnerable of the homeless’, Dr O’Reilly, together with Dr Mary Hickey, a nun who set up the practice 29 years ago, ensures that any homeless person who wants an appointment can be seen the same day.
This can mean long waiting times, he says, but they ensure their practice is welcoming, with patients offered tea, sandwiches and clothes while they wait for their appointment.
The practice recently set up a hepatology clinic to combat the high prevalence of hepatitis C among their patients. It has also set up an intermediate care service giving patients who are too well for hospital, but too sick to be homeless, a bed in a hostel with access to nurses and medical care.
There is evidence these initiatives increase the average age at death of their patients by seven years compared with other homeless people. The practice is rated ‘outstanding’ by the CQC.
Dr O’Reilly, who is also chair of Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster LMC, clearly loves his job as a ‘born again GP’; a stint of volunteering at the surgery after his medical degree persuaded him to ditch hospital medicine and a theology degree to return to VTS training. He says: ‘It’s what I feel I’m on the planet to do. ‘I get to see some of the sickest people in the country and turn their lives around.’
And what does he do away from the surgery? ‘I’ve spent ages trying to learn Mark Knopfler’s ‘Local Hero’ on guitar and I still can’t get it right,’ he says. Now he’s got a good reason to keep trying.
What others say about him: ‘He works with the most vulnerable of the homeless, treating them humanely and providing care when and where required.’