A patient is seen at Doctors of the World's drop in clinic in Bethnal Green, London.

Many people living in the UK find it impossible to access mainstream health services – despite being fully entitled to them – due to fear, not knowing the system, having to pay charges or being wrongly turned away by frontline healthcare staff.

Our clinics – one permanently based in east London and a mobile clinic for in London – offer primary care and health and social advice from volunteer doctors, nurses and support workers for excluded people such as asylum seekers, undocumented migrants, homeless people, and sex workers.

– In 2018, we conducted 2,068 social consultations and provided 928 medical consultations – nearly a 20% increase from 2017;

– We began a Family Planning programme, which runs monthly, and provided 869 STI screenings;

– And, in partnership with Vision Care for Homeless People, started to offer a bi-monthly eye health clinic.

As well as providing healthcare, we also empower vulnerable people to overcome barriers to the health system by, for example, helping them to register with their local GP. In 2018, our team of volunteer case workers answered 8,725 calls for such assistance – equivalent to spending almost 21 days on the phone.

We also signpost our patients to other services, including housing advice, destitution support and specialist counselling.

East London Clinic

Our first UK clinic opened in 2006, in Bethnal Green, East London, before relocating to Stratford.

In October 2019, we moved our clinic to a new purpose-built space in Stratford, which enables our volunteer doctors and case workers to support more patients than ever before. We estimated that there were between 50,000 to 500,000 people in the UK in need of our help; so it was, and still is, an imperative for us to scale up our services.

At our east London clinic, volunteer doctors and nurses offer medical check-ups and STI screenings while case workers give advice and help people register with their local GP. We also provide monthly TB screenings, in partnership with University College London Hospital’s Find and Treat Team, and sexual health screening in partnership with Barts Health.

The east London clinic is open five days a week, from Monday to Friday, and is currently operating remotely due to COVID-19.

Women and Children’s Clinic

Due to increasing demand, we now run our Women and Children’s clinic every week on a Tuesday. The clinic provides vital services to women and children, offering obstetric checks, health assessments, and STI screenings. Our volunteers also help with antenatal referrals and ensure women know their rights around accessing care.

In 2018 the Women and Children’s clinic saw 183 women and 79 children, who were on average just seven years old.

Whilst all pregnant women in the UK are entitled to antenatal care without upfront charging, many receive a bill (of at least £7,000) during their pregnancy. Fear of such a bill discourages many pregnant women from accessing healthcare, an issue exacerbated by the vulnerable circumstances many of our patients live in and the traumatic experiences they have encountered.

As well as offering healthcare at the clinic, we also signpost women to organisations that can help deal with various issues; and always emphasise the importance, both for the baby and themselves, of continuing to access antenatal care.

Mobile Clinic

To reach excluded people who couldn’t come to our clinic, in 2015 we started a pilot programme, sending medics to treat patients at other organisations that help vulnerable people across London. These “Pop-Up Clinics” saw our volunteer doctors sent to, for example, Hackney Migrant Centre and the Voice of Domestic Workers.

In 2019, we launched a pilot version of a new, similar yet more upscale, programme – the Mobile Clinic. This clinic, built into a large van and fully mobile, provides everything that a GP or nurse might need for primary care consultations. Currently, it runs monthly sessions at various organisations in London.

Here’s how the Mobile Clinic is revolutionising our work:

– Our east London clinic is running at full capacity, so the Mobile Clinic allows us to reach more people in need of our services;

– Healthcare is better and more dignified when it is local and patients’ lives face as little disruption as possible;

– Teaming up with other organisations helps us all to maximise our impact;

– Travelling around London to provide healthcare enables us to spread our services further;

– The Mobile Clinic’s space is incredibly adaptable and can be used not only for consultations and assessments, but also medical screenings.

Hospital Access Project

In 2015, the UK government introduced a new system to charge people not resident in the UK for NHS hospital services, and in 2017, charges were extended to NHS community services (apart from primary or GP care and drug services). Since then, we have been contacted by increasing numbers of people who have been denied access to NHS services for the diagnosis and treatment of serious health conditions, such as cancer, renal failure or tumours, denied treatment until their conditions become life-threatening, or denied access to NHS community services (such as treatment for mental health conditions).

At Doctors of the World, we are committed to ensuring that healthcare is never wrongly denied for the patients we serve and that patients with serious health conditions are able to access the care they need. We have a project dedicated to advocating consistently and powerfully on behalf of our patients to hospitals and NHS trusts where immediately necessary or urgent care has been denied and have built an established track record of successful outcomes for our patients.

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