Health watchdogs have found that most receptionists and admin staff at GP surgeries in Milton Keynes have been incorrectly refusing to register some people who have no identification.
Healthwatch Milton Keynes sent out three mystery shoppers earlier this year to 15 of the city’s 28 GP practices and looked at all of their websites. They found a lack of knowledge online and face-to-face.
In their report, My Right to Healthcare: GP Registration and Access, Healthwatch says: “Most front-line staff at GP practices were not aware of their obligation to register people who are legitimately unable to produce identification, but state they live within the catchment area.”
They also looked at GP websites and found that 23 of them stated that identification is required in order to register at the practice. Many of these explicitly state that without two forms of identification – photographic proof of identity and proof of current address – registration will be declined.
Two websites state that two forms of identification are required, and you may be declined if you are unable to produce this
• 1 website states that you should provide identification “if possible”
• 2 websites do not mention identification.
Healthwatch Milton Keynes, which is a part of a national network of publicly funded watchdogs, says the lack of identification affects people who are fleeing domestic violence, those who are living on a boat, are in unstable accommodation or street homeless.
It also covers people staying long term with friends but who aren’t receiving bills, people working in exploitative situations whose’ employer has taken their documents, people who have submitted their documentation to the Home Office as part of an application, or people trafficked into the country who had their documents taken on arrival.
Since September 2018 Healthwatch MK has distributed an estimated 1,250 cards to a wide variety of organisations across Milton Keynes including Probation services, Red Cross, Connections Support, organisations who are part of the MK Homelessness Partnership and Housing First, YMCA and Compass.
But surgeries’ responses to the card, which sets out the national rules, has included “those rules do not apply to this health centre”, “we have not signed up to this”, “the need for proof of address is even in our application form” and “the head doctor has specified it [the need for identification] as we have lots of non-English speaking residents and we need to be able to tie up their details accurately.”
The report, which is due to be discussed at the Healthwatch annual meeting on July 18 states that “most people in Milton Keynes can easily register at a GP practice” but that its “evidence suggests that there is a small section of our community that is being denied their right to access Primary Care through GP practices. This is a significant problem for those who are affected.”
The Milton Keynes GP Federation, whose response is included in the report, welcomed the Rights to Access and Health care review “as this gives our members the opportunity to feedback and continue to work with Healthwatch and patients positively.
“The Federation accepts that there is more our members could do to be open and clearer about the process of registering.
“We provide regular training and development events for primary care staff and will be hosting vulnerable patient training soon for all admin and reception staff, at their request.
“Prior to the training we are working with members and Healthwatch to develop standardised messages for websites and pathways for staff to follow when registering patients.”
And the Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which pays for GP services, said, in a letter to Healthwatch, that it has recommended practices to “review their practice procedures to ensure that they fall in line with, and do not contradict Primary Medical Care Policy and Guidance.”
The CCG is also looking for guidance from the NHS nationally to clarify what seems to be contradictory guidance. And they have also advised GPs that their websites be updated and for receptionists and admin staff to receive customer service training.