New scheme will help London's most vulnerable people

Project: London – supporting vulnerable populations, BMJ Volume 332, pp 115-7

This month, the medical humanitarian organisation, Medecins du Monde UK, launches Project: London, an initiative to help vulnerable people to access health care. In this week's BMJ the founders explain why such a scheme is needed, while an editorial explores what this says about society's attitude towards marginalised people.

Providing health care to marginalised groups is an integral part of Medecins du Monde's work in developed and developing countries, write Karen McColl and colleagues.

Some people in the UK, such as homeless people and female sex workers, find it difficult to access health care, while tougher restrictions on entitlement to NHS care are a barrier for migrants.

It is well known that there is a growing health gap between rich and poor within London, leading to reduced quality of life, and early death for many people, particularly those living in the most deprived areas of east London.

As a result, Project: London will help vulnerable people in east London to access the services that they are entitled to. Another key challenge will be to speak out for vulnerable people who are unable to access the medical care they need, say the authors.

This project raises fundamental questions about society's attitude towards marginalised people, add senior doctors in an accompanying editorial. Denying free basic health care to the most vulnerable groups in society, who are legally prevented from working and unable to pay charges, is ethically unsupportable and a breach of human rights, they write.

"We can only hope that the Secretary of State reviews this policy and ensures that the NHS continues to provide a service to everyone living in the United Kingdom."

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