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Healthwatch Hackney wins award for making it easier for refugees to see a GP

Healthwatch Hackney has won a national award for improving access to GP services for local refugees, asylum seekers and other residents. The national Healthwatch Impact Award celebrates the difference made by local Healthwatch staff and volunteers to improve NHS and care services. 

When patients feel unwell and need help, the GP is often the first place they turn to. For refugees, migrants, and people who are homeless, getting access to basic care can be difficult if services ask to see documents such as passports or proof of address to register. 

Healthwatch Hackney, the health and social care champion for the London Borough of Hackney, found this issue was affecting people in their community, with some telling them the NHS had refused them Covid-19 vaccinations because they were not registered with a GP.  

Following this, Healthwatch Hackney contacted 39 practices in their area to ask about their registration requirements for new patients. 

NHS guidelines say you do not have to provide proof of address or ID to register with a GP.

However, Healthwatch Hackney found that 59% of local GP practices asked for proof of identity, and over two-thirds (69%) asked people for proof of address to register. 

Healthwatch Hackney raised this issue with local NHS leaders, who immediately told each GP practice they must not demand ID or proof of address to register new patients. 

Thanks to this work, most local practices now have the correct registration policy, making it easier for patients to access a GP. 

Healthwatch Hackney also worked to increase people’s understanding of their rights to access primary care services and interpreting support.

They focused on groups with recent arrivals to the UK, such as the Chinese, Turkish and Somali communities, and organisations that work with migrants, refugees and homeless people. 

Catherine Perez Phillips, Deputy Director at Healthwatch Hackney, said: “Healthwatch Hackney is very proud to have won this prestigious impact award from Healthwatch England. By getting over 80% of their local practices to change their patient registration policy, people experiencing homelessness and other groups such as refugees and migrants can now more easily see a GP.”

“I would like to thank all the staff and volunteers who worked on our GP registration reports, and achieved this phenomenal change in GP registration practices, as well as our NHS partners for their support.”

Presenting the Healthwatch Impact Award, the Chair of Healthwatch England, Sir Robert Francis KC, said: “It’s an honour to announce Healthwatch Hackney as the winner of this year’s Healthwatch Impact Award. The award recognises Healthwatch Hackney for having a positive and tangible impact on people in their local area. Everyone at Healthwatch Hackney should be proud of how they’ve helped to ensure more vulnerable people in their borough can see a GP.”