A DROP-in medical centre, providing primary health care for the homeless in Newbury, would not be “cost-effective or practical”, according to the chief officer of Berkshire West CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups).
Dr Cathy Winfield was responding to calls for such a service from a range of organisations who deal with homeless people, after it was revealed that some of those sleeping rough can’t get access to basic medical care in West Berkshire.
Those who have been excluded from GP surgeries or those who are deterred from attending GP waiting rooms because of the “homeless stigma” are left with nowhere to turn, with some facing a trip to Reading Walk-In Health Centre – a 40-mile round trip.
Volunteers working on the frontline, providing help and support to the homeless, tell of regular encounters with incredibly vulnerable people needing health care or mental health care in Newbury who are unable – or unwilling – to go to a GP.
In a bid to tackle the issue, homeless charities and local health watchdog Healthwatch West Berkshire called for a homeless drop-in health clinic to be set up locally.
However, Dr Winfield said recruiting GPs, nurses and clerical staff, as well as logistical obstacles, such as obtaining computers, secure data lines and finding a suitable building, meant the idea was a non-starter.
“Once you work through the practicalities of that, it just doesn’t add up,” she said.
“We really want to work closely with Healthwatch West Berkshire and other partners in identifying individuals who need particular support and helping them to access the services that are already there.
“It’s not cost-effective or practical to set up a drop-in centre.”
The health chief said a Homelessness Forum exists between different agencies, such as police, the CCG, West Berkshire Council, substance misuse and mental health services and Healthwatch West Berkshire, where individual cases are discussed and reviewed and the agencies work together to plan support.
“That would be the place to raise it,” she said.
“If they know about people who say ‘I would really like to go to my GP but can’t’, they need to tell us that and we can broker an agreement with the GP or create a bespoke service for that patient – although we haven’t had any individual cases like that raised with us.”
However, Meryl Praill – who set up Newbury Soup Kitchen with the help of the Salvation Army – said any drop-in centre wouldn’t need to be open seven days a week, suggesting a bi-weekly or even monthly service, which would reduce costs.
She also said relying on agencies to highlight individual cases would not be practical.
“A regular medical drop-in centre in Newbury where these people can go and feel comfortable would be a massive benefit,” she said.
“These people have very chaotic lives. They don’t have phones, they might not have credit or any charge.
“A lot of them have had mental health issues for most of their lives so they’re very distrusting.”
The chairwoman of homeless charity Loose Ends, Pam Hayden, agreed, saying: “I go through Healthwatch and then they contact the CCG. It’s worked for one person that I know of, but it took a very long time."
Healthwatch West Berkshire chief officer Andrew Sharp, who initially raised the issue, said: “I’m pleased we’ve got some dialogue going on now, which is what we wanted. We’ve got all the people talking about the situation and hopefully through the MEAM project and just being able to sit down we might be able to get these people some treatment.”