COLCHESTER General Hospital bosses say they are seeing an increase in the number of homeless people being treated due to a rise in rough sleeping.

It comes after national doctors’ union, the British Medical Association, said the number of homeless people attending Colchester’s accident and emergency department has more than doubled in the past four years.

Its investigation found the number of homeless people who attended A&E in 2014-15 was 132, in 2015-16 this rose to 156 and then 198 in 2016-17. By 2017-18 the number was 286.

It said admissions of homeless people also increased from 60 in 2014-15 to 73 by 2017-18.

A spokeswoman for East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Colchester Hospital, said the figures backed up what they had been experiencing with patients.

She said: “Sadly we are seeing more people who are homeless as we think the number of homeless people in north Essex is growing.”

Nationally, recorded visits to hospital A&E departments by patients classed as having no fixed abode has risen from 11,305 in 2011 to almost 32,000 last year.

Admissions from emergency departments to hospital wards have also rocketed – from 3,378 in 2011 to 9,282 in 2018.

Dr Peter English, BMA public health medicine committee chairman, said: “If this was some disease causing all these problems, it would be a much higher priority, but because victims can be blamed and stigmatised, it is easy for Government to ignore.

“The growing numbers of rough sleepers and vulnerably housed people in our society is a continuing tragedy.

“To stand by silently as our NHS faces increasing strain and our society becomes increasingly unequal would be unacceptable.”

The investigation also explored the link between homelessness and mental health.

It found cuts to substance and addiction services, lack of mental health provision, inaccessibility of GP services, and the rising prominence of new psychoactive substances were all contributing to the growing crisis.

The BMA’s figures are based on the number of visits rather than individuals.