GP access cards are being distributed to vulnerable communities across Tameside and Glossop to help ensure that everyone can obtain health care.
Everyone has the right to register with a GP practice and access NHS services that are appropriate to their needs, to receive the best care and treatment possible by qualified staff in a safe and clean setting.
Local Healthwatch and voluntary organisations are distributing the GP access cards to vulnerable communities who are less likely to be registered with a GP. The card, similar in look to a credit card, is accompanied by a 'welcome to General Practice' letter and provides details of how to register. On the back of the card is the NHS England Customer Contact Centre number, for people to use if they have been refused registration.
NHS Tameside and Glossop Clinical Commissioning Group is aware that there are barriers when trying to register with a GP for those sleeping rough, living in hostels, experiencing homelessness, seeking asylum, travellers or refugees often without proof of a fixed address, identification or proof of their immigration status.
Despite national restrictions put in place as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, it is still important to encourage General Practice registration within communities, to ensure that everyone receives care and is prioritised for the COVID-19 vaccine.
General Practice registration is free and can generally be done on the same day. A 'new patient check' appointment will usually be offered. This might not happen straight away as it depends when the next appointment is available. If someone has an immediate clinical need the GP practice is required to arrange for that person to see a clinician as quickly as possible and have the 'new patient check' later.
One reason a GP practice will ask for documentation is to make sure that the practice is able to get the correct records from a patient's last GP practice but if they don't have them the practice cannot refuse registration.
The only circumstances where a practice can say no to registering someone is if their list is closed or they decide that it isn't clinically appropriate for the person to be registered with their practice. However, if someone is in immediate need of medical help, all practices must provide this and continue to provide cover for the following 14 days.
Co-Chair at NHS Tameside and Glossop CCG, Asad Ali, said: "The national registration guidance says 'where necessary, e.g. homeless patients, the practice may use the practice address to register them if they wish. If possible, practices should try to ensure they have a way of contacting the patient if they need to, for example with test results.
"I know many of the most vulnerable people turn up at A&E, which can largely be due to the difficulty they have in registering at a GP practice, with people wrongly being turned away due to proof of address or identification.
"We need to ensure that every effort is made to detect these groups of people and encourage them to register with a local GP practice.
"These people have the right to free NHS services and their personal information will be kept confidential."
People can register with a General Practice at: www.nhs.uk/register or telephone a local GP practice and ask to be registered as a patient.
Information on primary care services in Tameside and Glossop can be found at: https://www.tamesideandglossopccg.org/coronavirus/primarycareservices