‘Time is not on our side’ to save Norwich NHS walk-in health centre

PUBLISHED: 06:30 30 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:47 30 April 2014

Timber Hill Health Centre

Timber Hill Health Centre

©Archant Photographic 2010

The head of a GP-led group in Norwich has warned that “time is not on our side” to secure the future of a busy NHS walk-in centre in the city.

Support from across the country

Support has begun to flood in from across the country to retain a NHS walk-in centre in Norwich.

Timber Hill Health Centre is a valued facility by people in Norfolk and Norwich. However, around 30pc of walk-in patients live outside the county.

Lynne Lingley, of Farnborough, Hampshire, said: “My family live in Norwich and I have found the drop in centre extremely easy to get to. Also my mother, who is 93, can walk to it with no trouble and my son uses it. It is in the perfect location for people all over to access it being in the heart of Norwich. It would be ridiculous to move it.”

Kate Baillie, from Margate, said: “The surgery is in a very convenient location. Lovely helpful staff and doctors. Always appointments available. Not long waiting times. Close to pharmacy. Brilliant surgery all round.”

Colette Bloomfield, from London, added: “The people of Norwich have benefited so much from this walk-in centre and with the GP services too full to take more people in locally they need an alternative. Take this away and you’ll see a rise in hospital attendance.”

Carol Hewson, of Ashton under Lyne, said: “As I work in Norwich through the week, I have nowhere else to go if I need medical treatment when I am here.”

Jonathon Fagge, chief executive officer of Norwich Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), helped commission Timber Hill Health Centre as a management consultant in 2009. However, a question mark was raised over the future of the GP practice and walk-in centre as a result of Castle Mall restaurant redevelopment plans.

The owners of the shopping centre have offered Norwich Practices Ltd (NPL), which runs Timber Hill Health Centre, an alternative home on level two of the Mall. However, Mr Fagge said there were lots of “complexities” about the walk-in centre moving because of relocation costs and “conflicting” NHS advice on how to best manage urgent care.

Norwich CCG took over control of local NHS purse strings in April 2013 following a reform of health services. However, the CCG plays a “very limited role” in the Timber Hill Health Centre problem because NHS England, which has a regional base in Cambridge, is responsible for commissioning primary care services.

In his weekly blog, Mr Fagge said: “If we measure success on its popularity it has been a triumph. It meets a need - or at the very least a significant number of wants - for our population seeking help or advice from the NHS. It’s current problem highlights the challenges we have in designing services for our population, and in managing the current split in responsibilities across different commissioning organisations. This isn’t beyond the wit of the NHS to resolve, but there will have to be some fairly extensive discussions about who foots how much of the bill for any relocation. Time is not on our side.”

The owners of Castle Mall, InfraRed, has offered to pay around 40pc of the refit costs for the walk-in centre to move from level four to two of the site. However, officials from NPL said they could not afford the higher rents and relocation costs.

Mr Fagge added: “There are opportunities here of course, but the final complexity is the emerging and conflicting advice and evidence about how best to manage urgent care. There are models for walk-in or urgent care centres co-located with the local hospitals. Some parts of the country are developing primary care hubs in their larger GP surgeries with extended hours across the weekend. Some are keeping their walk-in centres just as they are to act as an intermediate facility between general practice and A&E, and trying to take some of the pressure off both. We may not commission primary care, but we do commission A&E, and access to one clearly affects demand for the other.”

“A two year contract extension to give us a year to analyse the emerging evidence and agree the best future model for the city, and then a year to properly commission and mobilise it would have been ideal. Instead we will have to work with NHS England to develop an interim as well as a long term solution, while absolutely minimising the cost to the taxpayer, and maintaining good access to care for local people.”

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