D-day looms for decision which could see urgent care centres in Sunderland, Houghton and Washington close

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An overhaul of urgent care services could be signed off by health chiefs tomorrow.

Bosses at the Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) are due to meet to make a final decision on changes which could see urgent care services at walk-in centres in Bunny Hill, Houghton and Washington shut down.

NHS bosses have insisted a revamped Pallion Health Centre and thousands of extra out-of-hours GP appointments would be able to cope with demand.

But the claims have been met with scepticism by campaigners from the Sunderland arm of the Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) group.

Branch secretary Laura Murrell said: “The CCG says that to compensate for the closures they are going to create an extra 42,000 GP appointments, so people won’t have to rely on urgent care centres.

“We don’t accept they will be able to create those. In any case, those 42,000 are based on a reduction in the numbers of people needing treatment.”

The CCG claims the scheme is a reaction to confusion over what services are available in the city - saying this leads to up to two thirds of patients turning up at A&E departments who could have been treated elsewhere, putting an increasing strain on hospitals.

According to a consultation on the plans carried out last year, patients themselves were concerned about potential ‘significant negative impact on vulnerable groups’, such as the elderly, families and people with disabilities or mental health issues.

This survey has also been criticised by KONP protesters.

Murrell added: “We feel the consultation was presented as a fait accompli and there hadn’t really been any consultation prior to them coming up with the proposals.

“They have the same mantra, that no change is not an option.

“These service are being removed from three of the most deprived areas of Sunderland. When we talk to the people in those areas they say how useful they are and how they were almost part of the communities.”

David Gallagher, the CCG’s chief officer, said: “Over the last few months we have been reviewing all the feedback we have received from members of the public as well as evidence such as clinical reviews, financial information and modelling about how people use the services.

“We will be making our decision tomorrow in our governing body meeting which people are welcome to attend and will also be broadcast live online.

“When making our decision our aim is to ensure Sunderland people have a service which is closer to home wherever possible as well as making better use of NHS funding and our workforce.

“We want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed so far as it’s important to hear people’s views as part of this process.”

James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporting Service