PEOPLE who live on canal and river boats need greater support to access health services, a new report from Healthwatch Oxfordshire has revealed.

The health and care watchdog found 60 per cent of the boat dwellers it spoke to had experienced problems accessing healthcare in the county.

It also discovered more than 50 per cent had difficulties accessing a GP, which is often a gateway to other NHS services. The main findings of the report included that boaters seem to be a ‘forgotten’ group, with no targeted information and support .

Along with speaking to more than 65 boaters the independent watchdog also carried out in December a ‘mystery shopper’ exercise, approaching 55 GP surgeries across Oxfordshire and attempting to register as someone who lived on a boat.

It found more than one in 10 (13 per cent) were entirely 'unwilling or unable' to do so, with a further further 18 per cent unclear, unavailable or ‘not on take’

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The watchdog said the reasons given for not being able to access a GP were mainly related to a lack of a residential or postal address, requests for identification, 'gatekeeping' by receptionists and administrative barriers.

Healthwatch Oxfordshire will now bring together key stakeholders to highlight findings in the report, and support ways for a collaborative way forward to improve boaters’ awareness of and access to health and social care.

Rosalind Pearce, executive director of Healthwatch Oxfordshire, said: “Our research has found that many people who live on boats experience real difficulty in accessing health services.

"Many of these issues could be addressed if there was better understanding by providers and boaters’ support services. We hope that this report will lead to tangible improvements in the way services are delivered to the boating community.”

Read the full report here.