Individuals are to receive a simple plastic card bearing the NHS in Greater Manchester logo and stating: “I have a right to register and receive treatment from a GP practice”.
And volunteers who know what it is like to sleep rough are to support people in making appointments, attending at their local practice and in managing treatments.
The “My right to healthcare” cards are being introduced by homelessness charity Groundswell, together with the charity Shelter and the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership. It is being introduced in Greater Manchester later this month through staff and volunteers who work with the A Bed Every Night scheme.
The cards add, on the reverse: “I do not need a fixed address. I do not need identification. My immigration status does not matter.”
The aim of these cards is to give homeless people more confidence to go and register with a GP and receive treatment from a GP practice.
NHS organisations including GP practices have worked together in recent years to improve the way they provide health care service to homeless people. This includes services that are provided by GPs and practice nurses and more specialist services that are available through referral from a GP.
Around 100 staff and volunteers from A Bed Every Night homelessness shelters, councils and NHS organisations were today (Friday 24 January) introduced to the new scheme in Greater Manchester, alongside Birmingham and Newcastle, following the success of a pilot in London.
Rachel Brennan, Groundswell network coordinator, said: “These award-winning cards provide people experiencing homelessness with a really simple tool to overcome barriers to registering with a GP.
“Groundswell has distributed 75,000 cards in London. We also support people experiencing homelessness to access and engage with healthcare through our homeless health peer advocacy service which will now be replicated with our partner Shelter in Greater Manchester, through the #HealthNow project.”
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, who has championed A Bed Every Night spoke at the event.
He said: “The cards make a simple but powerful statement and will help people with he way they think about themselves, reminding them they are citizens with rights like everyone else.
“Greater Manchester is a compassionate place. We are increasing trying to create an approach that combines health and housing. After all, homelessness can be as much a crisis health issue as a housing crisis.
“The NHS in Greater Manchester has engaged with this issue differently than the rest of the country – we’re innovating all the time, and this project highlights that the NHS in our city-region understands that homelessness is very much a health issue.”
The training day where the scheme was launched included sharing of experiences between staff who work with people who sleep rough across Greater Manchester through A Bed Every Night.
It also included an insight into the common healthcare needs of people who experience homelessness, including GP care, infection control, drug abuse, mental health support and the risk of exploitation.
The current phase of A Bed Every Night includes improving the quality of accommodation, more training of front-line staff and volunteers and improve signposting, screening and assessment into health services.