Helping someone who is homeless access healthcare

(Last Updated On: December 22, 2018)

With rough sleeping on the rise, health and care services can play their part this winter by ensuring those facing homelessness get the support they need.

women in the street

Tonight, an estimated 4,751 people will sleep rough on the streets of England.

Experiencing homelessness can have a negative impact on both your physical and mental health, so it’s important that people are able to access support.

How can health and social care professionals help?

People who have faced homelessness have told their local Healthwatch that they can experience problems accessing services.  If you work for an NHS or social care service there are several steps you and your colleague can take to help.

Enable people to register with their GP

People have told us that they have not been able to register with an NHS general practice because they lack identification or do not have a permanent address.

I was living in a tent and I needed ID proof of address, they wouldn’t let me register without.
— Personal story Healthwatch Croydon

If you work in a GP surgery, you can help by making colleagues aware of people’s rights.

NHS guidelines say that GP services cannot refuse to register someone because they are homeless, do not have proof of address or identification, or because of their immigration status.

GP surgeries can only refuse to register someone if they are already full or if the person is living outside the practice area – and they must explain this in writing.

The NHS has produced a leaflet that explains how to register with a GP and people’s rights.

Download the leaflet 

Direct those experiencing homelessness to support

The support available in England to people who are homeless will depend on several factors but you can help people by directing them to your council housing service and local homeless services.

Search for local  services

Connecting rough sleepers to local services

Streetlink is a service that helps to connect people sleeping rough to local services.

They can be contacted either by people sleeping rough or by anyone who is concerned on their behalf.

0300 500 0914

Make sure your service has the knowledge you need

Health and care services across England have done work to improve the support they provide to those facing homelessness.

The first step you can take is to talk to your homeless service about any training or materials they can provide. You can also talk to your local Healthwatch to find out about what local people have told them.

There are also several free resources available on the internet that could help.

The Healthy London Partnership has produced a resource pack designed to educate NHS staff and signpost to a range of resources that can support their work with people who are homeless.

Download the resource pack


Apart from five years studying in Oxford I’ve lived most of my life in London where for many years I was Head of English in a prestigious girls’ school, but since taking early retirement and heading West to be nearer to my two daughters - settling in Torbay with my wife, Anna, in 2011 - I’ve worked in the voluntary sector. I took on the role of Service Provider, for example, promoting the Red Cross Torbay Navigators Project, while now I’m a Trustee and part of the Media Team for our local Healthwatch. I’m a governor at Torquay Academy, too, giving me the chance to stay up to date with what’s happening in the world of education. Other interests, aside from friends and family, include art and art history, reading - from contemporary fiction and poetry to Elizabethan/Jacobean literature - history, politics, cooking, walking, and music, in particular Bob Dylan, the blues, and early Elvis. I love writing, too, with one novel published so far – Elvis in Wonderland – and another, Who’s There?, that still needs plenty of work!