NEWS

GPs have been accused of turning away asylum seekers because of workload pressures.

The Refugee Council claims doctors are refusing to put refugees on their patient lists, leaving many without access to basic primary care services.

The council's health policy adviser, Sasha Acimovic, told HSJ: 'It is a big problem, particularly in areas like Leeds. It seems to be about difficulties getting translators and concerns that consultation times will be far longer than for other patients.

'GPs are worried about losing money, and asylum seekers are not going to help them meet targets for which they get paid - child immunisation, smear-testing, for instance. I think many feel they will not get the money they need to deal with asylum seekers.'

Leeds health authority acknowledges there have been problems, but insists they have been no different in scale to other parts of the country that have taken in refugees. It says 80 per cent of its refugee population are fully registered - 10 per cent on a temporary basis - with the remaining 10 per cent falling outside the system.

The main cause of refugees falling outside the system, according to Martin Schweiger, HA policy lead for refugees, has been refugees being housed in private accommodation where it becomes difficult for them to be traced.

The HA is launching a pilot scheme in October where a primary care team dealing with refugees will link to existing health workers caring for the homeless.

Mr Schweiger called on the Department of Health to issue national guidance to help the NHS deal with refugees - a demand supported by the Refugee Council.

The council is concerned that lack of information on how to access services is increasing pressures on other areas of the NHS, with some refugees turning up at accident and emergency departments for problems that could be dealt with at primary care level.

Helen Rhodes, a nursing specialist for refugees at Eastern Leicester primary care trust, said that as many as 27 per cent of her own clients were not registered with a GP because of the absence of basic information.

'Trusts are having to reinvent the wheel every time, ' she said. 'Trusts in places like Glasgow and London are spending money producing leaflets on how to register with a GP when it would be better done at a national level. It will save money and it will be more effective.'