Norwich walk-in centre’s future could depend on hospital A&E redesign

Castle Mall, NHS Timberhill health centre. ©Archant Photographic 201001603 772434

Castle Mall, NHS Timberhill health centre. ©Archant Photographic 201001603 772434 - Credit: ©Archant Photographic 2010

A decision on whether to expand a Norwich health centre could depend on plans to rebuild the city's only accident and emergency department.

Health chiefs yesterday gave their backing to the Timberhill walk-in centre and reassured patients that its future was not at risk.

But decisions over whether to expand the centre or build another facility may hinge upon a possible redesign of the A&E department at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

The A&E revamp and walk-in centre decisions could have a significant impact on Operation Domino, the project aimed at raising A&E performance by improving all aspects of emergency care.

A meeting of NHS Norwich Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the new GP-led body responsible for city healthcare, heard that the effect of Operation Domino was now being seen in shorter times for ambulance handovers and A&E waits.

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Outlining the next phase of the project, chief executive Jonathon Fagge said a senior manager would be appointed to work with a development group to finalise Operation Domino's approach for winter 2013-14, by the end of July.

Early plans for the A&E redesign at the N&N are expected in June.

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He said the winter had been 'difficult' but the system had emerged 'working really quite well'. 'The work we have done over the last four or five months is having a positive effect, without wanting to say the problem has been fixed,' he added.

The future of the Timberhill walk-in centre could also be affected by the changes, as Operation Domino looks at easing the pressure on A&E.

An assessment was made of five possible outcomes when the centre's commissioning contract runs out in 2014 – including closing the centre, which the report's author said was included only 'for completeness'.

Mr Fagge moved to allay fears over closure and said: 'With 78,000 patients a year, clearly it's not a question of 'Do we keep it open?' – it's a question of 'What is its role in the future?''

But chairman Dr Chris Price said that changing the balance of services between A&E and the walk-in centre could be a solution.

'Maybe the way forward is recognise where people go and where they like going, and adapt the services we offer on these sites,' he said.

'We have to look at how we provide that rather than telling them they have gone to the wrong place.'

But Dr Cath Robinson warned against offering extra diagnostic services, which could further confuse patients as to where they should go.

'You immediately create risks by needing transfer from there to an acute general hospital,' she said.

Members of the public also spoke in support of the centre, with one 80-year-old woman explaining she valued the 'peace of mind' it offers.

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