GP practices have dealt with an increasing number of homeless patients over the last five years, a BMA survey has found.
Over a quarter of the 178 GPs who responded to the survey said the number of homeless patients visiting their practice in the last five years had grown.
Nearly one in five GPs (18%) said their practice had to dedicate greater time and resources to homeless patients, in comparison to five years ago.
The findings – published today – also revealed hospitals have seen a threefold rise in the number of homeless patients presenting to A&Es since 2011.
According to the BMA, health and social care cuts mean the most vulnerable in society are receiving poorer protection from the system. This is compounded by the fact that homeless patients are suffering from a series of increasingly complex physical and mental health conditions, it said.
BMA public health medicine committee chair Dr Peter English said: ‘If this was some disease causing all these problems it would be a much higher priority but because victims can be blamed and stigmatised it is easy for Government to ignore.
‘The growing numbers of rough sleepers and vulnerably housed people in our society is a continuing tragedy. To stand by silently as our NHS faces increasing strain and our society becomes increasingly unequal would be unacceptable.’
NHS England requires practices to register homeless patients and suggests practices use the surgery address to do so.
Following concerns from GPs about doing this however, NHS England told Pulse they could have a signed agreement with the patient that sets out that it is the patient’s responsibility to maintain regular contact with the surgery in order to recieve any secondary care correspondence.
GP and founder of The Homeless-Friendly programme Dr Zahid Chauhan said: ‘The reality is that homelessness is rising and rough sleepers with everything from mental to dental health issues will be presenting.
‘These patients are entitled to exactly the same quality healthcare as the rest of the community. Proof of permanent address should never be a barrier and refusal to treat a person experiencing homelessness goes against national guidelines.’