Minister plans Wales GP network to provide special service for homeless

The Welsh assembly government could be set to develop a network of GPs dedicated to working with homeless people in all 22 local health boards in the country.

Social justice and regeneration minister Edwina Hart is pushing the plan as a way to tackle the health inequalities experienced by rough sleepers and people living in temporary accommodation.

Cardiff is currently the only city in Wales to have a dedicated homelessness GP. It is thought that the assembly will appoint a co-ordinator to help local health boards set up the new services.

Hart told the Shelter Cymru annual conference in Swansea last week that she was in talks with assembly health minister Dr Brian Gibbons over the issue because her department did not have the necessary funding to tackle it on its own.

She said: “I’m concerned about what’s happening for homeless people linking into the health service – it’s a very important agenda.

“I’m also concerned with how homeless people register with and access a GP: if you do get them into a surgery, a 10-minute [consultation] isn’t enough, you need an hour.”

A new Shelter report, Hidden, found that 84 per cent of people classed as homeless said their health had been affected by their housing conditions, and 71 per cent of those respondents said they were suffering from stress or depression.

Hart also warned it was likely that local authorities would need to transfer their social housing stock to registered social landlords to meet new quality standards by the 2012 deadline.

Some councils had hoped to borrow money to upgrade their stock but Hart said the UK government had ruled this out because of the increase in public sector borrowing it would cause.

The conference also heard claims from a senior public health doctor that local authorities were failing to fully recognise the impact of poor housing on people’s health because Wales lacked a country-wide wellbeing strategy.

Dr Edward Coyle, consultant in medicine at the National Public Health Service for Wales and public health director at Bridgend Local Health Board, said the Welsh assembly government had failed to produce a national strategy despite assurances it would do so.

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