GP surgeries updating good practice in registering new patients thanks to local Healthwatch
Almost all GP practices in Southampton routinely ask for proof of identity, potentially denying many people access to care in Southampton.
Healthwatch Southampton stepped in to make a change. We spoke to them to find out more.
Why did you investigate this issue?
During a number of events we held in the community, individuals and groups raised the issue of problems registering at GP practices. The problem they faced was that they were often asked for proof of identity or address, such as a utility bill, or driving license. If unable to provide this, they could be turned away. With further research we discovered this disproportionally affected groups such as people who are experiencing homelessness, refugees, asylum seekers, women and older people. Without being able to register there were potentially serious health consequences to individuals along with added pressures to other health services, such as A&E.
What did people tell you?
One young woman who was previously homeless tried to register at a number of surgeries but was turned away because her name didn't match her birth certificate. This was because she had been abused by her father and had since changed her name. Critically she had type 2 diabetes and needed regular medical help but this was being denied. Healthwatch was able to intervene and ensured that she could register. We raised this as a priority with a wide variety of NHS organisations in an effort to establish the policy behind it and seek change. This included meeting with the Southampton City Clinical Commissioning Group, the Wessex Local Area Team, Wessex Local Medical Committees and the Southampton Practice Manager’s Forum.
What happened as a result?
We worked with Wessex Local Medical Committees (LMCs) to get them to update their existing guidance for local GP surgeries on good practice in registering new patients. They have updated their guidance to the following:
“Under the terms of the GMS contract there is no obligation to ask for verification of identification. However, if your local practice protocol includes this, please remember that no patient should be refused registration if they cannot produce the necessary documents. There should be a process in place, within your practice, to ensure that patients without ID can register.”
Wessex LMC’s New Patient Registration – April 2015
What feedback have you had so far?
We’ve had some really positive feedback so far and have heard that people are asked less frequently to present photographic ID or utility bills as proof of address. "I just wanted to let you know that I believe we are experiencing the winds of change with regard to our patients registering with local GPs when they are ready to move on. We are finding that they are less frequently asked to present photographic ID or utility bills as proof of address." Pamela Campbell Consultant Nurse Homelessness and Health Inequalities Solent Healthcare’
Find out more about Healthwatch Southampton’s work on access to GP services.
If you have experienced similar issues trying to register for a GP, or have any other feedback about a health or care service, get in contact with your local Healthwatch and let them know.