FAIRFIELD General Hospital in Bury will become the first hospital in the country to join a scheme that helps rough sleepers receive care before they reach crisis point.

Members of the homeless community often go to A&E departments for treatment because they believe their lack of permanent address will prevent them from accessing their GP.

The hospital, in Rochdale Old Road, has now signed up to a scheme which will see staff signpost rough sleepers to dedicated GPs, dentists and social workers who can help them with health problems and housing issues.

The changes are part of a new partnership between the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group, which oversees the running of Fairfield General, and the Homeless-Friendly programme.

Dr Andrea Abbas, A&E Clinical Director at Fairfield General, said: "With the cold and wet weather, homeless people attend A&E but often with housing needs and non-medical issues.

"Of course our unit has and always will be homeless-friendly in the way it treats all of those who come through our doors, but this scheme will help us to let our homeless patients know they will be treated with respect and dignity and to signpost them towards further help and support, whilst in their current situation.”

Staff at Fairfield General have received training on how to refer homeless patients to GPs and social care services.

GP surgeries that are part of the Homeless-Friendly scheme have developed links with training providers and citizen's advice bureaus, and set up foodbanks to help rough sleepers.

It is hoped that Fairfield General's decision to join the scheme will avoid "expensive A&E visits" and reduce queues at emergency departments.

Dr Zahid Chauhan, founder of Homeless-Friendly, said: "The inspiration behind getting hospitals to become Homeless-Friendly came from a rough sleeper who told us that he had walked eight miles to receive treatment whilst in agony.

"He should have been able to see a local GP to prevent that emergency happening at all. If he walked into A&E at Fairfield today, he would receive excellent treatment as normal, but now also the address of a Homeless-Friendly surgery in his neighbourhood and even details of organisations who could help him with housing, finding a job and getting back onto his feet."