‘Homeless are being denied vital health care’

LOCAL NHS bosses have been criticised for putting the health of homeless people in West Berkshire at serious risk.

Many of those sleeping rough in Newbury are being deprived of basic healthcare, according to watchdog Healthwatch West Berkshire (HWWB).

Those unable to access a GP service in some cases then face a 40-mile round trip to the closest NHS drop-in centre in Reading.

HWWB chief officer Andrew Sharp said it was unacceptable in 2017 that those with chaotic, challenging lives have such difficulty accessing a ‘basic’ GP service when they are in pain or ill.

However, despite calls for action, bosses at Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) have declined to discuss the issue.

“I think they [the CCG] are breaching the constitution in about four or five areas,” said Mr Sharp.

“Effectively they’re almost not understanding their own purpose.

“Their purpose is to commission services that are effective, but they might as well commission them in Glasgow.”

He added: “What really disappoints me with this is the ‘computer says no’ response. It’s so out of keeping with the NHS five-year view – it’s meant to be about patient needs.

“They say they’re there to listen to patients, but any time anything is raised you get this standard PR rubbish – the ‘everything is fine’ line.”

Responding to the annual HWWB report, a spokesperson for Berkshire West CCGs said: “We are committed to ensuring people who are homeless have the same access to healthcare as the general population.”

They added: “We actively promote the ways that homeless people can access medical care.”

The CCGs has declined to expand on the statement.

Homeless people and rough sleepers can be unable to access primary healthcare for a number of reasons, said Mr Sharp.

He explained how one homeless person he had spoken to had been banned from his GP’s surgery two years ago and was now unable to gain access to basic primary medical care in West Berkshire.

Mr Sharp revealed the man is now battling leukaemia.

He said: “They’re basically saying we are happy for this man to continue not getting treated until he collapses and needs an ambulance.

“How can that be right?”

The Newbury-based health watchdog director called for a drop-in clinic to be set in Newbury for the homeless.

And, while accepting the NHS was battling against severe funding restrictions, he said something had to be done.

“These are not big numbers,” he said.

“But that’s what makes it frustrating. If we were to introduce this drop-in centre we might not have to run it forever.

“We might be able to clear this up and stop the health and mental health problems that these people can’t get the treatment for initially.”

Much has been made about the plight of the homeless in West Berkshire recently with the formation of West Berkshire Homeless – an organisation committed to helping rough sleepers off the streets and into work, as well as West Berkshire Make Every Adult Matter (MEAM), which will see different organisations including charities, police, West Berkshire Council, as well as NHS CCGs, work together to help the homeless.  

West Berkshire Council spokeswoman Peta Stoddart-Crompton said: “Health care access for homeless people is part of the MEAM agenda.

“West Berkshire’s application to become a MEAM area has been submitted and is awaiting approval.

“However, we already work closely with partners to ensure that rough sleepers have access to the services they need and will continue to prioritise this.”

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