Medical centre's fate hangs in the balance

MARK NICHOLLS The fate of a walk-in medical centre in Norfolk that treats 60,000 patients a year and hailed as a way to reduce pressure on accident and emergency departments is hanging in the balance.

MARK NICHOLLS

The fate of a walk-in medical centre in Norfolk that treats 60,000 patients a year and hailed as a way to reduce pressure on accident and emergency departments is hanging in the balance.

Health chiefs will decide the future of the Walk-in Centre (WIC) at Dussindale, Norwich, when they meet on Tuesday but one option being considered is closing it down.

Campaigners have been fighting to save the centre and last year handed an 800-signature petition to Norfolk Primary Care Trust to try to keep it open.

A report to be presented to the monthly board meeting of the PCT points out that a £531,000 cut in central government funding for the centre left it facing an uncertain future.

The report by the PCT's Stephen Taylor said that the walk-in centre has the equivalent of 22.5 staff and costs £715,000 a year - with £627,000 of that being staff pay.

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The PCT had believed the Department of Health would pay £611,000 of the total cost but then cut that by half a million pounds.

Four options for the walk-in centre will be presented to the board: do nothing; reduce the hours and transfer some services back to family doctors; move it to a new location, or close it.

The board will hear that one option is to relocate it to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to help reduce people going to A&E, though sites at the hospital are limited.

However, the centre may be making savings of £662,000 a year on A&E admissions, which have soared at the N&N in recent years.

The cash-strapped PCT - already £46m in debt - has earmarked the walk-in centre to make savings of £100,000. But there is a reluctance to close it because it may see the loss of staff with certain skills that would be needed for units under the PCT's Urgent Care Strategy, which will outline the future of such care in the county, but is still incomplete.

Mr Taylor also points out that while closing the walk-in centre would make the biggest savings, there would be significant redundancy and early retirement costs.

Mr Taylor said: “There is a recognition that the WIC cannot simply stand still by continuing to provide care when its funding has been significantly reduced and neither cannot it continue to duplicate service provision with the local primary care system.”

A likely option seems to be that the PCT will continue to provide services at the WIC until its urgent care strategy is agreed and review its role and location later.