86,000 reasons why Norwich must keep walk-in health centre
11:44 16 April 2014
©Archant Photographic 2010
Pressure is being put on health bosses to commit to the future of Norwich’s walk-in centre, as it emerges the service could be asked to move out of its rented base in September.
The future of the Timber Hill Health Centre was thrown into doubt this week after Castle Mall unveiled plans for a new restaurant quarter in the area of the shopping centre where it is based.
Castle Mall owners InfraRed want to attract six restaurant businesses into the Timberhill entrance area, but that means relocating the health centre to another part of the mall.
The lease for the walk-in centre, which treats 78,000 patients a year and has a growing list of 8,000 registered patients for its GP services, has not been renewed and is due to run out in September.
InfraRed says it is in discussions with the Timber Hill Health Centre, which is run by Norwich Practices Limited, to move it from level four to a “larger and more central site” on level two near the post office.
A spokesman said: “We recognise the important service that Timber Hill Health Centre provides to the people of Norwich and, in September 2013, began discussions with its operators regarding a possible move to a larger, more central and accessible site within Castle Mall on expiry of their lease.
“The proposed site would be custom-fitted to Timber Hill’s specifications and we have had several meetings with its operator.
“We retain a desire to keep the health centre within Castle Mall and have offered to make a significant contribution to the costs of the move and fit-out of the new premises. Our proposal ensures a continuous service is offered to patients as the transition from the current to the new premises would only happen once the new location is ready to open.”
But Katie Norton, director of commissioning for NHS England, said the decision to move had been rejected by the centre, because of the cost.
“We are very disappointed in the decision of the owners of The Mall not to renew the lease,” she said.
“We recognise the important services provided by Timber Hill Health Centre and we are committed to working with Timber Hill and the clinical commissioning groups in Norfolk to identify options for the future. It is important to recognise that Timber Hill is a purpose-built medical centre and moving it will cause considerable disruption.
“At this time, the option of moving to an alternative location in the Mall has been rejected by Norwich Practices Limited on the basis of the significant additional cost...”
She said she was disappointed that InfraRed had submitted a planning application for the area used by the health centre without consultation.
Dr Tesh Patel, clinical director of Timber Hill Health Centre, said: “Our immediate priority will be to ensure both walk-in patients and patients registered at Timber Hill Health Centre have a continuous primary care service.”
The health centre cost £2m to open in July 2009. It employs 90 staff and has younger registered patients than many other GP practices, as it was aimed at providing health services to some harder to reach sections of the population. It serves a high number of men aged 15-45.
Paul McCarthy, Castle Mall general manager, said: “We are in a position to offer them more space in a better location on level two, and we are very keen to work with them and do a deal.
“We have been talking with our tenants, who are Norwich Practices Limited, for some considerable time and some of the conversations have also involved NHS England.”
Both Norwich MPs, Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North, and Simon Wright, Lib Dem MP for Norwich South, are calling for a solution to be found. Mr Wright has written to Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, asking for him to intervene and to give a commitment to continuing the service.
Do you have a story about how the city centre walk-in centre has helped you? Contact health correspondent Adam Gretton on 01603 772419 or email firstname.lastname@example.org