Many live-aboard boaters are “continuous cruisers” (boater without a home mooring). Although their boats are, of course, their homes, such boaters are classified as being “of no fixed abode”. Although this should not be an issue, it often does result in problems accessing health care.
Except in an emergency, when obviously you would go straight to A&E, in order to access health care, you need to be registered with a GP. Although you have a legal right to register with a GP where you are, some are less accommodating than others.
Before you register, it is worth contacting the GP practice to explain that you are “of no fixed abode”, or living or staying temporarily in the vicinity of their practice. You are entitled to register in the area where you are, without ‘proof of address’.
You can register with any GP in your local area as long as they have space for new patients.
Some GP surgeries will let you register using their address, which is not only perfectly acceptable, it is also very sensible and practical. Others will try to insist that you provide the address where you are. In that case, it should be possible to register using your boat location, although finding the correct postcode may prove more of a challenge.
There is an NHS leaflet which explains your healthcare nicely and also provides information for the GP. Download a copy here.
The same rules apply to dental healthcare. However, it can actually be a challenge to find a dentist anywhere who is taking on new NHS patients. Once you find one, registering with them shouldn’t be an issue.
The Accessible Waterways Association will campaign for the right to access Healthcare. We will also do what we can to assist any boater who is struggling to access the health care to which they are entitled.
On a Low Income?
You may be entitled to free prescriptions, optician appointments, glasses, dental care and more. You can use the NHS checker to see if you are eligible.
National Health Service?
Despite being a NATIONAL Heath Service, continuous cruisers can have issues accessing healthcare.
The BMA website states:
The main principle is that anyone, regardless of nationality and residential status, may register and consult with a GP without charge.
… and …
There is no contractual duty to seek evidence of identity, immigration status or proof of address. Practices should not refuse registration on the grounds that a patient is unable to produce such evidence.
This quite clearly states that that no GP surgery can or should refuse to register a nomadic boater, without an address in the area, for healthcare.
The NHS website states:
Anyone in England can register with a GP surgery. It’s free to register.
You do not need proof of address or immigration status, ID or an NHS number.
You can contact any GP surgery if you need treatment and:
- you’re away from home
- you’re not registered with a GP surgery
- it’s a medical emergency
You might need to register as a temporary resident or permanent patient if you need treatment for more than 14 days.
You can register as a temporary resident for up to 3 months. You’ll still be registered with your usual GP surgery if you have one.
The Healthwatch website also makes it clear:
Having proof of where you live helps, but NHS guidelines clarify you don’t need to have proof of address when registering with a GP. This also applies if you are an asylum seeker, refugee, a homeless patient or an overseas visitor – whether lawfully in the UK or not.
There is a Boater Healthcare Project called Navigating the System, which provides a useful and interesting insight into the Healthcare issues that boaters can experience.