Frustration grows over uncertainty regarding Norwich NHS walk-in centre’s future

PUBLISHED: 06:30 30 August 2014

Simon Wright outside Castle Mall. Photo: Steve Adams

Simon Wright outside Castle Mall. Photo: Steve Adams

Frustration is mounting over the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Norwich’s NHS walk-in centre - four months after its future was thrown into doubt.

Castle Mall, NHS Timber Hill Health Centre. Castle Mall, NHS Timber Hill Health Centre.

The lease of Timber Hill Health Centre in Castle Mall is set to expire next month after the owners of the shopping centre revealed plans in April for a restaurant quarter on level four.

Norwich’s two MPs last night spoke of their concern that the future of the popular walk-in centre and GP practice was still not certain and urged NHS chiefs to reach an agreement as soon as possible.

Norwich City Councillors approved a planning application last month for Timber Hill Health Centre to move from level four to a larger empty unit on level two, next to the Post Office.

However, despite a commitment from NHS England to retain a walk-in centre in the heart of Norwich for at least the next two years, an agreement has still not been reached on where that will be.

Jess Asato and Clive Lewis with the walk-in centre petiton at Castle Mall. Photo: Bill Smith Jess Asato and Clive Lewis with the walk-in centre petiton at Castle Mall. Photo: Bill Smith

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP, said she was “very concerned” that there was still uncertainty over the future of the health centre, which provides walk-in services to more than 75,000 patients a year and has 8,000 patients registered at the GP practice.

“I understand all the pressures that relate to the decision, but people in Norwich need our walk-in centre to continue.”

“I have spoken to the practice and to the NHS repeatedly and have now offered to help sit down with them to try to close the matter so that everyone can get on. Patients should come first here and delay in sorting out the situation is tremendously unhelpful,” she said.

InfraRed, the owners of Castle Mall, submitted plans for a new restaurant quarter on level four in April, which was approved last month by councillors after Norwich Practices Ltd (NPL) withdrew its objections.

The practice had previously rejected a proposed move to level two of the mall because of the relocation and refit costs.

Simon Wright, Norwich South MP, said he thought an announcement on Timber Hill Health Centre was imminent after the planning meeting.

“It is disappointing that we still do not have that clarity. We would hope that with NHS England continuing to give their commitment to resolving this that we can get a positive outcome. It is frustrating this has gone on for longer than anyone would have liked,” he said.

The Norwich Evening News launched a petition in April urging NHS bosses to retain a walk-in health facility in the heart of Norwich, which received more than 400 signatures.

Labour’s two parliamentary candidates also presented a petition signed by 1,300 people calling on the government to pledge its long-term commitment to an NHS walk-in service in Norwich.

NHS England officials said in May that their preferred option was for the current lease to be extended. The other options are to move in Castle Mall or relocate the health centre to temporary units somewhere else in the centre of Norwich until a permanent solution is found.

The walk-in centre has already had to reduce its opening hours by two hours a day as a result of staffing pressures.

A spokesman for NHS England in East Anglia said: “NHS England remains committed to working with Timber Hill Health Centre to ensure that patients will be able to continue to access GP services in the city centre. At present, a number of options are being pursued.”

“No final decisions have yet been made, and Timber Hill Health Centre will be speaking to patients regarding any proposed changes to the practice. NHS England will continue to work with Timber Hill Health Centre to ensure that everyone has access to high-quality GP services in the East Anglia area.”

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