A Gateshead GP has started a weekly clinic to treat people experiencing homelessness at our Gateshead drop-in centre, a crucial additoin to our homelessness services this winter especially as the cold weather begins to creep in.

Three in every four homeless people have a physical health problem. Yet rough sleepers’ health needs are rarely met and the average homelessness life expectancy is 45 years old for men and 43 years old for women, as of figures published in July 2021. It’s why securing help from a GP from a local practice has been a huge value-add to our drop-in service.

Carolyn Wood, Director of Programmes at Oasis Community Housing, explains that this is the case for many of the people who use the charity’s Basis drop-in centre in Gateshead. She said: “We are acutely aware that homelessness doesn’t travel alone; it is almost always accompanied by trauma and can include addiction issues, offending behaviour and certainly health issues. The wet and cold of the British winter only serves to exacerbate many homeless people’s already chronic conditions.”

Carolyn Wood, continues: “We’ve always sought to draw services and specialists together across our services, as we feel this has far more impact than expecting people to visit multiple services, attend numerous appointments and repeat their devastating story over and over.”

Clinic already helping huge health risks

The weekly clinic, held every Wednesday morning, is being run by Dr Alex Barker from the Oxford Terrace Medical Group.

The clinic has been set up following a successful pilot, when a nurse conducted weekly health information and advice sessions at the drop-in. Data gathered during these sessions highlighted how difficult it is for people facing homelessness to access essential healthcare. As a result, Oasis Community Housing has been working with Public Health in Gateshead to develop a clinical space so that Dr Barker is able to offer treatment to the hundreds of people who access the drop-in centre each year.

Describing the situation that people find themselves in whilst trying to organise GP appointments, Dr Barker said: “Telephone lines aren’t easy for any of us, and waiting on the phone is especially hard when you don’t have one or when you’re out of credit. Many people facing homelessness struggle to make and keep appointments. On top of that their health is at huge risk due to cold weather exposure and lack of good nutrition.

“During my short time with Oasis Community Housing’s Basis project, I have witnessed how challenging it can be for members of the homeless community to access mainstream health provision and I feel passionate about making healthcare accessible to all.

“Charities such as Oasis Community Housing do an invaluable job in supporting the homeless community. This support is needed more than ever at this time of year.”

This is why we have begun working with the wonderful Dr Barker, to bring the GP to the drop-in so people facing the huge burden of homelessness have one less weight on their shoulders with the opportunity to organise and attend a potentially critical doctor’s appointment.

Help in Giving a Home this winter

To find out more our homelessness services this winter, visit our ‘Basis’ page.