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GP practice to repurpose meeting room for cold and hungry locals

GP practice to repurpose meeting room for cold and hungry locals

A London GP practice will open up its meeting room as a ‘safe space’ for cold and hungry people in the local area to help them through the winter.

From October 1, The Project Surgery in Newham will open a room between 1pm and 3pm for local people to drop in to get warm and have some soup.

The special room, first reported by The Independent, will be open to everyone, including those who are not registered patients at the practice.

GP partner at the practice Dr Farzana Hussain told Pulse: ‘I’ve got so many people coming with what you would class as mental health [issues], but actually, it’s natural mental distress. People are really concerned about how they’re going to be able to heat their homes with the increased energy bills and actually eat.’

She said: ‘I’m fortunate that I own my own practice building. It’s a converted house and we’ve got a little meeting room upstairs that we don’t use all the time, it’s just for meetings. It probably sits 12 comfortably, but we could get 16 in.’

She added that if more people need to access the service, she will speak to the local council about alternative spaces to accommodate them.

‘They just need to sign in who they are and literally that’s it. Our staff are going to pop in and out to see if they need anything but it’s their space just to eat and be warm, it’s not a medical space,’ Dr Hussain said.

Because there are no cooking facilities, Dr Hussain plans to provide vegetable Cup a Soups, a kettle and some bread.

She added that she currently doesn’t ‘want to do anything to medicalise it’.

She told Pulse: ‘If we find that people are asking us, then it’s a great opportunity to do health promotion as well there if we’ve got a little group and think about encouraging people to have the flu vaccine.

‘But at the moment, I really just want it to be just an absolutely non-judgmental, safe space for someone just to be warm and to just have their soup where they don’t need to feel embarrassed about coming.’

Dr Hussain wanted to do it at the practice because of the ‘stigma’ attached to poverty, she told Pulse.

She said: ‘It takes a lot for someone to say “I can’t afford this” – it adds to psychological distress. And actually coming to your GP is one of those things we can all do. It’s a confidential thing. We don’t have to give a reason, we can just say, “I’ve got a GP appointment, I’m going to my GP”.’

‘I’ve had a patient who works in the NHS in a clinical profession, not a doctor, but in quite a senior position as a clinician. Her husband’s been made redundant, she can’t make ends meet, she’s going to food banks, she’s got two young children and she’s being evicted. This is the reality. We’re not talking about a few people, we’re talking about a lot of our society.’

Dr Hussain added: ‘It’s heartbreaking when I’ve been a GP for 21 years to be thinking about this. But I think as a GP, I have to, because how can I treat anybody? If they can’t eat and they’re not warm, how do you possibly start to do your healthcare if people haven’t got the basics?’

She added: ‘I’m really scared that we’ll get the call this winter that actually one of our elderly patients has died of hypothermia. That’s the heartbreaking thing because I think these things are preventable.

‘Cancer might not be preventable for everyone, but actually, hypothermia, in London, in 2022. Really? People are dying of hypothermia or malnutrition? My parents are from Bangladesh and you hear about malnutrition in a developing country – I didn’t think I’d see this in London in 2022.’

Last week, GP leaders asked new Prime Minister Liz Truss to take action on poverty, warning of its profound effect on their patients’ health.

It comes as experts have warned that cold homes this winter pose a direct threat to the health of children in the UK as rising energy prices force more than half of households into fuel poverty.

Meanwhile, Pulse yesterday revealed that one ICS plans to go ahead with cutting £1.5m from GP practices in a deprived area after the CCG failed to phase out PMS payments.

And Pulse previously revealed that GP practices themselves may end up tens of thousands of pounds in deficit this winter amid rising inflation and fuel costs.