A PIONEERING group of GP's surgeries have become some of the first in the country to offer medical care to the homeless as part of a groundbreaking scheme.

More than 20 practices, medical centres and organisations in the borough have pledged to become homeless friendly as part of a project of the same name, established by Whitefield-based Beacon GP Care.

Among the other trailblazing practices is Birches Medical Centre, in Polefield Road, Prestwich ­— the first in the town to sign up after a doctor at the surgery, Dr Robert Lipski, discovered a young patient he had been treating was living in his car.

Birches has now vowed to examine its policies and procedures to ensure they are 100 per cent homeless friendly.

Staff at the medical centre have since taken training on working with other organisations that provide shelter, addiction support and advice on job hunting, and have discussed setting up a foodbank at the surgery.

The surgery also took part in session detailing some issues that homeless people who need medical care face ­— such as attending appointments on time when they have not watch, or filling in forms that demand an address.

Jan Rogers, practice manager at the Birches Medical Centre, said: “Ours is quite an affluent area but we do see vulnerable patients.

"Homeless-Friendly has made us more aware of the problems the homeless face and alerted us to their needs. It will also help us signpost patients to others who can help them.”

Homeless-Friendly was launched in 2017 and aims to treat rough sleepers, sofa surfers and any person without a fixed abode to the same medical care, dignity and respect given to all other patients, as well as provide support and combat the roots of the UK's homelessness problem.

It is hoped the wider-scheme will encourage a cultural shift in how those without a permanent home are viewed by society.

Bury's Fairfield was first the hospital to join the project, and last year Bury became the first local authority to issue cards to rough sleepers offering 24-hour health care.

Dr Zahid Chuahan, the programme's founder, said: “Homelessness is not just a city or even town centre problem any more. Rough sleepers are fleeing urban areas because of fears for their safety and in the belief that people in the suburbs will be kinder to them.

"Those outlying areas often don't have the services for people experiencing homelessness, and so those who are homeless or on the verge of losing their home are very fortunate indeed to have practices like the Birches Medical Centre.”

For more information on Homeless-Friendly visit www.homelessfriendly.co.uk.