‘Communities have still lost’ and ‘good outcome’ - campaigners split over Sunderland urgent care services overhaul

Campaigners from the Sunderland branch of the Keep Our NHS Public group outside Tuesday's meeting.
Campaigners from the Sunderland branch of the Keep Our NHS Public group outside Tuesday's meeting.

Campaigners have been split over a late change to plans to overhaul urgent care services in Sunderland.

Concerns over transport and access had been raised over controversial plans to shut down walk-in services at Washington, Houghton and Bunny Hill and refer patients to Pallion Health Centre or offer a GP appointment.

But a concession to continue providing minor injuries treatment in Houghton and Washington was agreed when bosses from Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) met today.

The Sunderland arm of the Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) campaign was one of the loudest voices fighting the closure of walk-in services.

Following the decision, branch secretary Laura Murrell said: “We’re pleased they took into account everyone’s concerns, but I don’t think they have done anything that was particularly unexpected.

“There will still not be any walk-in centres apart from at Pallion, so those communities have still lost that very important local resource.”

Also read: “We listened to the public” - insist health chiefs

The KONP campaign to fight the planned changes drew support from across the country and the region.

Among their backers was shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth, who visited Sunderland in July to show his support.

And protestors also collected more than 14,000 signatures for petitions opposing the changes, which they said would unfairly hit patients in Houghton and Washington.

They were also concerns about the impact on Sunderland city centre due to increased numbers being sent to Pallion Health Centre for treatment.

Members of Sunderland City Council also backed the KONP campaign, but were more positive about the CCG’s decision.

Shiney Row councillor Anne Lawson, chairwoman of the Coalfield Area Committee, said: “I think this was a good outcome for the people of the Coalfield area.

“I’m pleased the CCG has listened and taken on board the concerns of residents.

“We’re really pleased that the people of Houghton will still have services for minor injuries and access to the extended GP service.”

The city’s MPs also cautiously welcomed the decision.

Sunderland central MP Julie Elliott: “I welcome the update on the decision made by the Sunderland CCG on the urgent care provision in the city.

“It is clear that the response to the consultation by the CCG has listened to those who responded and addressed their concerns around the services available at Washington, Houghton and Bunny Hill.

“Although I still have concerns over the accessibility to Pallion health Centre, I trust that these will be addressed in the coming weeks, and I will be watching developments closely.

“Overall, it is undoubtedly an improvement on what was originally proposed.

“I therefore must pay tribute to all those who campaigned endlessly within our community, to protect local health services.”

Washington and Sunderland MP Sharon Hodgson said: “The CCG’s decision today is a great success for campaigners, constituents, Labour Councillors and Labour activists, who were committed and determined to save our Urgent Care Services.

“I recognise that, because of damaging Conservative Government funding cuts, the previous arrangements were not sustainable.

“I am pleased that we have now been able to reach a compromise that won’t be detrimental to local communities.

“However, the devil is in the detail, so I look forward to studying this decision more closely.”

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service