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No one should be left behind when it comes to the vaccine says council and CCG

Together with the local Clinical Commissioning Group, we have written to all GP surgeries in Lewisham urging them to ensure that no one is left behind from accessing the COVID-19 vaccine.

As the NHS is rolling out its largest vaccination programme, it is now more important than ever for everyone to ensure that people in vulnerable situations can register with a GP and be included in local vaccination plans.

The pandemic has changed the way we all work, and reports showed that BAME communities are disproportionately impacted by this deadly virus. Registering with a GP has been become increasingly harder for people as the registration process moves online and people seeking asylum and people experiencing homelessness are living in temporary accommodation. The usual routes for finding a GP are narrowing making it harder for patients in Lewisham to access GPs and for new patients to register.

Our aim is for every practice to be accessible and become a Safe Surgery, ensuring the vaccine is accessible to absolutely everyone.

Our letter

Re: Safe Surgeries to ensure no one is left behind from COVID-19 vaccine

We are writing to remind you of an important aspect of practice policy which supports the safeguarding of vulnerable people and access to primary health care for all our population in Lewisham.

We would like you to join our coordinated efforts in Lewisham to make sure no one is left behind from essential primary care services and the COVID-19 vaccine plans.

As the NHS is rolling out its largest vaccination programme, it is now more important than ever for everyone to ensure that people in vulnerable situations can register with a GP and be included in local vaccination plans.

The pandemic’s effect on GP registrations

The COVID-19 outbreak has changed the way we all work, and the reports showed that BAME communities are disproportionately impacted by this deadly virus. GP registration challenges have been compounded during the pandemic, as people have been dispersed from their normal source of healthcare, the registration process moves online and people seeking asylum and people experiencing homelessness have been accommodated in temporary accommodation.

A local study showed GPs in Lewisham and stakeholders working with vulnerable people are concerned about access to primary care after changes brought in due to the pandemic were implemented. Some triage systems and online consulting methods could be making it harder for patients in Lewisham to access GPs and for new patients to register. You can read the local study on how new GP system's have impacted vulnerable people on the medRxiv website.

The vaccine roll-out and the need to register everyone

At present, individuals need to be registered with a GP and have an NHS number in order to access the vaccine. But many vulnerable people are not registered with a GP, as many people have been denied registration due to lack of documents.

Everyone is eligible to register with a GP and receive primary care services free of charge, regardless of immigration status. In November 2017, NHS England published its Primary Medical Care Policy and Guidance Manual, which states that if a patient says that they live in the practice area but cannot produce proof of address or ID, they shouldn’t be refused registration on that basis. You can read the Primary Medical Care Policy and Guidance Manual on the NHS website.

There is no contractual requirement for GP practices to verify identity or proof of address. Similarly, patients are not obliged to provide information on their immigration status if they do not want to. Everyone living in England, regardless of their immigration status, is entitled to free primary care and to register with a GP.

Recently, NHS England launched a new campaign on GP registration which includes distribution of ‘access cards’ to people experiencing health inequalities. This initiative reiterates that being registered with a GP has many benefits, the most important one at the moment is that GPs can identify those people who are clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 and ensure that they are invited to get a vaccination.

In 2016/17, 15% of attempts of DOTW caseworkers to register patients in Lewisham were wrongly refused. We are happy that this percentage has decreased to 7% in 2018/19. However, we need to improve this to make sure no one is refused in Lewisham.

We are happy to tell you that since DOTW’s initial training in 2018-19, the number of Safe Surgeries in Lewisham reached 15. But we want to have Lewisham as the first borough in which all GP practices become Safe Surgeries and all new staff receive training on Safe Surgeries, to ensure we are living up to our commitment to become a true Borough of Sanctuary.

What we want you to do now

We want to ask you to complete a simple step to visibly demonstrate your services and registration processes are accessible to everyone in your community, by signing up to the Doctors of the World Safe Surgeries Scheme.

The Safe Surgeries initiative provides resources, training, and support for GP practices on how to ensure their services (and registration processes) are accessible to everyone in the community.

Sign up and complete the training session on supporting people to register, if you have not done so.

We know that many of you have been proactive in your support for vulnerable people to access primary care. We now need you to go one step further to ensure that everyone can register at a GP and access this vital vaccine.

You can read more about the Safe Surgeries Scheme on the Doctors of the World's website. You can join Safe Surgeries by filling in an online form.

The Safe Surgeries initiative has also published a Covid-19 toolkit for general practice, and constantly working on producing new resources to support GP practices to help them better manage their time and address the needs of our community in Lewisham. Read the Covid-19 toolkit for general practice on the Doctors of the World's website.

Doctors of the World is establishing a translated health information hub, where tailored, accessible, and translated information on COVID-19 guidance is published (COVID-19 vaccine and other relevant health information including access to flu vaccine will be published soon). Find COVID-19 guidance in other languages on the Doctors of the World's website.

Our aim is for every practice to become a Safe Surgery and ensure the vaccine is accessible to everyone.

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