Council bosses have promised to keep a close eye on the progress of controversial urgent care reforms in Sunderland, following reports of teething problems with the service.
This week councillors decided not to refer the overhaul, which included the shut down of walk-in services at Washington, Houghton and Bunny Hill, to the government for a review of the decision.
Members of Sunderland City Council’s Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee accepted there was not enough evidence to support a ‘call-in’ to the Department of Health and Social Care.
“We have a number of options to consider,” Coun Darryl Dixon, the committee’s chairman told Wednesday’s meeting.
“First is referral to the secretary of state [for health], but as it stands there appears to be insufficient grounds for a robust referral.
“[The second option is] we can agree with the decision, members can note it and acknowledge that the committee retains some monitoring role.
“The third option is for members to provide a written response.
“It’s clear there remain a number of issues and concerns to the public around urgent care and it will be key that this committee retains a role monitoring these changes.”
Health chiefs made the decision to overhaul urgent care services in January, but in a late concession agreed to continue providing minor injuries treatment in Houghton and Washington.
The committee opted to send a letter to the Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the organisation behind the plans, outlining its areas of concern.
Travel and transport
Use of Pallion Health Centre
Councillors were also concerned about the use of the 111 service, which is run by the North East Ambulance Service, to direct urgent care patients to treatment.
Coun Neil MacKnight said he had had reports of people in the Coalfields area being sent to Pallion ‘rather than their nearest centre’.
Speaking after the meeting, Laura Murrell, secretary of the Sunderland branch of the Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) campaign, said she had heard similar complaints and added the service ‘doesn’t seem to be joined up’.
Responding to the concerns and the committee’s letter, David Gallagher, the CCG’s chief officer said: “In the future, patients will only need to call their GP practice or 111 to access the range of urgent care services in the city.
“This will help people go to the right place first time and receive care as close to home as possible.
“We are now working with our partners to implement these changes.
“This includes reviewing areas where people raised concerns, like car parking and waiting areas in Pallion, to make further improvements where we can.”
He added: “NHS 111 health advisors guide patients based on a live directory of NHS services that reflects what each service has available at any one time.
“Based on a patient’s symptoms and location, this identifies which is the best service that health advisors should offer the patient.
“On some occasions, a patient might be sent to an alternative service because the service closest to them is full or does not have the appropriate staffing or resources that the patient will need.
“We welcome all feedback from patients about their experiences with the 111 service, and would ask anyone who was not satisfied to submit a complaint at www.neas.nhs.uk so that the service provider can consider it properly.”
The North East Ambulance Service was also contacted for comment.
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service