Local GP surgeries commit to ‘safe surgeries’ status for welcoming migrants

21 Jun 2023
NHS South East London

Many GPs, their staff and the wider NHS in south east London have committed to remove the barriers to primary healthcare that asylum seekers and other migrants often face by signing up to be ‘Safe Surgeries’.

Around two-thirds of surgeries in south east London have registered with the Safe Surgeries Network, run by Doctors of the World, to improve access and make registering as a patient more straightforward.

Some migrants are wary of providing information to practice staff – and many do not have the documentation that is often asked for. GP practices are not legally required to ask or see such documentation before registering a patient.

Speaking during World Refugee Week (19-25 June), NHS South East London Integrated Care Board’s Director of Prevention and Partnerships, Sam Hepplewhite, said: “We are absolutely committed to getting as many practices as possible to be Safe Surgeries. Often GP practices unintentionally erect barriers that prevent or deter migrants from registering as a patient or receiving the health advice and care they need. Signing up to the Safe Surgeries Network and tapping into their expertise can transform their relationship with communities.”

Almost 1,400 GP practices have signed up as Safe Surgeries across England. Doctors of the World works with primary care staff when their surgery signs up, offering training to frontline workers and disseminating useful resources and examples of good practice.

Dr Shazia Munir, a Lambeth GP who specialises in health inclusion, emphasised the value of Doctors of the World’s Safe Surgeries initiative: “It’s brilliant that the Safe Surgeries scheme is being implemented, but I think it’s really important that this continues and is rolled out to all GP practices if possible, as it really makes a huge difference to those individual patients.”

South London Listens, a grassroots movement of 140 NHS organisations, councils and their voluntary and charity sector partners, organised a Safe Surgeries Summit with local health service leaders and practices last month.

Around 100 community leaders from across south London attended. The ICB agreed to work with them to jointly write, share and update a patient advocacy guide to help patients know their rights around accessing primary healthcare. They also agreed to work towards all GP practices in south east London having Safe Surgery status by next March.

The community leaders celebrated the primary care professionals and surgery staff who they said are working hard to create inclusive, safe and welcoming spaces. Community leaders, clinicians and NHS colleagues pledged to continue to work together and acknowledged that partnership was key to improving equality of access to healthcare across south London.