BURY has become the first borough in Britain to guarantee homeless people will receive urgent medical attention.

GP services across the town have signed up to an initiative, launched by Homeless Friendly and Bury Council, which will see rough sleepers, sofa-surfers and others around the town given a card advertising a phone number for BARDOC, which they can call 24 hours a day.

Homeless people often struggle to see a doctor because they have no permanent address and find it difficult to register at a practice.

The out-of-hours service will then be able to find them appropriate treatment, and even signpost them to organisations that can help with housing, training and curbing addiction.

Politicians, health chiefs and homeless people attended the launch of the programme - thought to be the first in the UK with full local authority backing - at Moorgate Primary Care Centre, in Bury, yesterday.

The initiative was inspired by the council’s deputy leader, Cllr Andrea Simpson, who says she has witnessed the challenges homeless people face in her role as a medical practice manager in Salford.

She said: “The deep-rooted nature of homelessness means there are no quick and easy solutions, and it is a myth that people need a permanent address to access medical help, but a dangerous myth as people believe it.

“Practices can register people with the practice address, and not having an address should not be a barrier.

“We need to make it easier for vulnerable people in our society to get the help they require when they need it.

“By launching this new card scheme, we are taking positive steps forward to address one of the issues homeless people face, which is receiving medical help.

“We hope that by being the first local authority to back such a scheme, others will follow not just across Greater Manchester, but nationally too.”

There are thought to be an estimated ten rough sleepers in Bury, while about 1,600 people are on the council’s housing waiting list.

However, Homeless Friendly say it is difficult to quantify the exact number of hidden homeless that may be eligible for the programme.

Dr Zahid Chauhan, founder of Homeless Friendly, added: “It is a great initiative. Bury Council has set a model for the rest of the authorities across the country.

“There is a view that homelessness is just people living on the street but there are a lot of hidden homeless people in Bury.

“They are the people in our society who need health and social care provision the most – and yet it has, on occasion, let them down.

"What they need is a collaborative approach like we are launching here in Bury to send out a powerful message that their community cares.”

BARDOC already operates a nationally celebrated vulnerable patients scheme which gives blankets, water and other essentials to particularly needy patients.