Health bosses respond to criticisms over proposed changes to urgent care in Sunderland

Houghton Primary Care Centre is one of the Primary Care Centres for urgent care removal
Houghton Primary Care Centre is one of the Primary Care Centres for urgent care removal

Health bosses have admitted to flaws in the way they presented reform plans to the public.

A public consultation on proposed changes to urgent care services in Sunderland had appeared to suggest patients would be able to see their own GP through a new extended hours service.

But this is in fact not the case, with the service only planned to be available at four or five locations across the city.

Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) ran the survey on the proposed changes between May – September and published the findings last month.

“Initially we weren’t as clear about who could be visiting,” Ann Fox, the CCG’s director of Nursing, Quality and Safety, told a recent meeting to discuss the report.

“But at the moment our existing model is if you go to an urgent care service they don’t have access to your records.

“Our proposed services might not necessarily be your GP, but for home visits where there needs to be that continuity, the GPs have said they’re the ones they want to retain.

“It would be any other visits where someone needs an urgent visit but can’t get to their practice, but they will have access to your clinical records and will be able to write into those as well.”

The extended access service was also criticised by GP practices themselves in the consultation.

According to the report they ‘expressed genuine concern’ over whether the planned model would be able to cope with demand.

They also highlighted ‘perceived inaccuracy’ over suggestions patients would be able to see their own GPs.

Another major concern flagged in the findings was transport to Pallion Urgent Treatment Centre, should the proposed closure of walk-in centre services at Bunny Hill, Washington and Houghton happen.

Andy Wright, director at ASV Research, which carried out the consultation and analysed its findings, summed by the issue by saying: “If you live in the city centre it’s easy to get to, if you don’t it’s not.

“There’s impact on vulnerable groups and issues around getting to Pallion with public transport.

“There’s also the impact increases in travel time could have on congestion and getting to where the service is could exacerbate your condition.”

Mr Wright also noted concerns raised in the consultation over a sole urgent treatment centre at Pallion would be able to cope with demand.

However the consultation could not probe deeper into the areas it will affect most because it would have been too expensive.

A city-wide street survey was unable to gather more data from those areas due to cost constraints, according to Andy Wright, director at ASV Research, which carried out the research ordered by the CCG.

“To be representative of the people of Washington, the Coalfield and other areas, we would have to interview 400 people within those areas,” Mr Wright told a meeting of Sunderland City Council’s Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee.

“You would move from a 400-person survey, which is achievable within the public purse, to something which is more expensive and less achievable.

“That’s why it’s only representative at the borough level and not at other levels and that’s why it’s important in the feedback you give that the CCG recognises that.”

The street survey was completed by 406 people, of whom 96 were from Washington and 56 were from the Coalfield area.

A final version of the report is expected to be published later this month.

The public now have the chance to comment on the consultation findings ahead of a decision in January.

Any changes are expected to be implemented in April.

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service