Harrogate GP surgeries complete training to help make healthcare more accessible to homeless people

Dr Dariush Saeedi
Dr Dariush Saeedi

Doctors' surgeries across the Harrogate district have taken vital steps towards ensuring that healthcare is accessible as possible for homeless people.

The Homeless Champion training was run by Dr Joy Shacklock from The Spa Surgery, named GP for Child and Adult Safeguarding at the Harrogate and Rural District CCG, and Dr Dariush Saeedi, also from The Spa Surgery.

Dr Joy Shaclock

Dr Joy Shaclock

With statistics showing that homeless people are 40 times more likely to not be registered with a GP, 16 of Harrogate’s 17 surgeries took part to understand the health challenges homeless people face, as well as how to identify patients who are homeless or are at risk of being so.

The training introduced doctors to important local services and resources helping people who are homeless, and was launched in conjunction with Dr Gemma Ashwell from Bevan Healthcare, and representatives from Ripon YMCA, Harrogate Borough Council, North Yorkshire County Council, Foundation Housing, and the Harrogate Homeless Project.

Harrogate Homeless Project Service Manager Julie Everill, said: “I think the session was really beneficial to all who attended, doctors work with lots of different vulnerable patients and it is important that they understand the needs of these vulnerable groups.

“When someone is homeless it will have an impact on all areas of their life, and health is a major area.

"Apart from the direct impact such as possible deterioration of existing conditions and the impact of homelessness on someone’s mental health, there are also other things to take into account such as whether someone will have somewhere safe to store prescribed medication or how the surgery and other medical professionals can contact someone who is homeless for referrals and follow ups and so on.

“We see many issues that the people we work with face when accessing healthcare, this could be being asked for ID they don’t have when registering at a new surgery, to being unable to keep track of appointments so missing appointments and potentially having treatment interrupted.

“Some people may have had negative experiences in the past so are reluctant to trust medical professionals, we also see people who have multiple pressing medical issues which are difficult to address in a short appointment.

"It is important though to bear in mind that there is no such things as a ‘typical homeless person’ and homelessness can effect everyone.

“I think the training will make a big difference both in terms of healthcare staff having an understanding of the specific challenges for homeless people and in terms of healthcare professionals and organisations working with homeless people and working together more closely.

"I think it was really encouraging speaking to people in the room as there is already so much good practice happening in the district and the numbers of people who attended demonstrated the willingness to build on this.”

The training morning included talks by local groups and projects providing information on the services they provide, followed by group discussion of cases and potential scenarios prepared by Dr Gemma Ashwell, who has a lot of experience supporting homeless people in Bradford.

Dr Joy Shacklock said: “We worked closely with Charlotte Fortune at Harrogate Homeless Project to identify what the challenges are for their clients accessing healthcare and how we could work together to improve this.

"We anticipate that the training will have direct impact on patient care. All the speakers spoke with enthusiasm, their passion for this vulnerable group of people was very evident. The case discussions were lively and it was clear that local practices are keen to engage with those who are homeless and work in partnership with them and agencies to optimise their health.

"The training morning is the start of a journey to optimise the health of those who are homeless. We are looking forward to building on the work that has already been started.”