Registering with a GP

Boaters sometimes have difficulty registering with a doctor because we can’t provide a home address in the surgery’s catchment area.

Generally, a surgery is only obligated to take you on if “you live within the catchment area and it is accepting new patients”.

This means that ultimately it is down to the discretion of the practice whether they agree register you as a permanent patient.

However, all UK residents are entitled to free NHS care and non-residents are entitled to emergency care. There are guidelines in place to cover people with “no fixed abode” which states that not having a permanent address should not be a barrier to treatment. However, if a practice is full and not taking on new patients then you may have to try another surgery.

EMERGENCIES: You can receive emergency treatment at a practice for up to 14 days without registering.

Bear in mind that the practice may not have encountered a liveaboard boater before, so it is useful to have some information at your fingertips to support your case.

Here are a few approaches boaters have used, including using a walk-in centre, registering on a temporary basis, arming themselves with information or simply lucking out and finding an understanding practice:

Walk-in centres

NHS walk-in centres are staffed by nurses and deal with minor illnesses and injuries. You do not need to register or make an appointment, but the services can get very busy. Average waiting time is usually around 2 hours.

Find your nearest walk-in centre at

Registering as a temporary resident

You can register with a surgery as a temporary resident, or up to 3 months, if you are visiting an area for more than 24 hours. You may be able to persuade the surgery to register you as permanent later on.

Temporary registration allows you to access treatment at your nearest surgery without becoming discharged from your main practice (if you have one). This can be useful for boaters.

The following information is useful when you visit the surgery for the first time:

• Your NHS card or number
• Details of any past/ongoing medical problems
• Name of any medication you are on
• Allergy information
• Contact details of your main/previous GP

Know your rights

John Sloan of the Association of Continuous Cruisers raised this issue with the Department of Health. He received an email reply from a Peter Hawkins, which quotes directly from NHS guidance:

“the absence of a permanent address is not a barrier for a person with ‘no fixed abode’ to register with a GP practice. In many cases, practices have used the practice address in order to register a homeless person.”

Hawkins goes on to write:

“While the guidance does not specifically mention people who cruise on the canals in the UK, it does cover the general term of people with ‘no fixed abode.’"

What this actually means for boaters is not clear, and Hawkins also suggests registering as a temporary patient or using a walk-in clinic. However, it may be possible to use the surgery’s address to register.

Read the letter at:

If you feel you are being treated unfairly, contact the local Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) or the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) covering the area.

Find your local PALS at:

Find your local CCG at:

Boaters’ Tips

Always use your most winning smile with the GP Receptionists and be persistent. If the Receptionist won't play ball ask to speak to the Practice Manager or one of the senior GP partners. If that doesn't work, and if necessary, the threat of an official complaint via the CCG will oil the wheels enough. At the very least get yourself registered as a temporary patient first - it's a start!

I printed off the letter from the Department of Health to the Association of Continuous Cruisers and took that. I was treated more as a novelty than a pain in the arse.

I use the Greenhouse Walk in Centre just off Mare St. All boaters without an address are welcome and the treatment is top class! Tudor Road, Hackney.

If you know a GP surgery that welcomes boaters or have more information on this topic, please comment below!

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