Opinion: Norwich needs a walk-in centre

Timber Hill walk-in centre.

Timber Hill walk-in centre. - Credit: ©Archant Photographic 2010

It is a rare occasion when all of the main political parties agree. But there is one NHS subject everyone is unanimous on – Norfolk's only walk-in health centre must stay in the heart of Norwich.

Since a question mark was raised over the future of Timber Hill Health Centre two weeks ago, I have been inundated with emails and letters from patients who rely on the service.

Patients have voted with their feet since the centre opened in Castle Mall in 2009.

News last week that NHS England has made a commitment to a walk-in centre somewhere in the city centre is very encouraging news – if the facility has to move from its current home on level four of the shopping centre.

The health centre has become a valued place for people living and working in Norwich and for patients outside the city because of its long opening hours seven days a week.

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But in hindsight, was a five year lease long enough? And was a shopping centre the best place for the health centre?

The end of Timber Hill's lease and Castle Mall's restaurant quarter plans mean that the centre will either move to temporary buildings in Norwich or move to a larger site on level two, if an agreement can be found to overcome refit costs.

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If NHS chiefs had made a longer-term commitment to a walk-in centre contract, we would not be in a position of taxpayers' money being used to pay relocation and refit costs five years down the line.

More than 75,000 patients use the walk-in centre a year, which has a two year contract extension with NHS England. However, where that will be in Norwich is still up in the air and subject to further negotiations.

The centre was designed for patients who find it difficult to access mainstream GP services, but it has also eased pressure on A&E at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, which has seen a year on year increase in emergency admissions.

Timber Hill Health Centre is such a well-used facility, a long-term commitment to its future from NHS chiefs is an absolute necessity.

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