Labour's health supremo is backing the campaign against changes to urgent care services in Sunderland.
Consultation is under way on a plan by the city’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to shift all urgent care services to Pallion Health Centre near Sunderland Royal Hospital, with some GP practices offering appointments on evenings and weekends, rather than the current primary care centres in Houghton and Washington and at Bunny Hill..
The CCG says the changes, supported by an extended access GP service, will ease pressure on services, but community campaigners, MPs and councillors have opposed the proposals.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth visited the Bunny Hill Centre today with Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson, whose constituency covers the centre, and her Houghton and Sunderland South colleague Bridget Phillipson, to meet campaigners who are collecting signatures against the plans.
"Sharon and Bridget have been keeping me informed on this campaign," he said.
"I can't see any sensible reason why the CCG should be closing these facilities. We want to expand healthcare provision, not cut it.
"I don't think these changes are in the interest of patients in Sunderland - we want to be bringing healthcare provision closer to people, not transferring it further away.
"When people close these centres, all that happens is that you increase pressure on GP services and your local district hospital. I think this is the wrong decision and the CCG will begin to realise that."
Sharon Hodgson said: "This week we celebrate 70 years of the NHS - local health centres were a vital part of that.
"They are saying they are not going to close this building but the same range of services is not going to be here. There is going to be a diminution of services. "
Sunderland City Council leader Coun Graeme Miller was also among those supporting the campaign.
"Whether you are an MP, a local councillor, a centre user or someone with a family member who comes here, these places have to be defended," he said.
"We want as many people as possible to take part in the consultation process. If there are only a small number of responses, you can question the value of the outcome.
"The more people take part, the greater the impact of the response and I am sure the response will be 'Keep these places open'."
Sylvia Hargrave was one of the first babies to be on the NHS in Sunderland - she celebrates her 70th birthday on July 22.
"My sister is disabled and has used the NHS many time," she said.
"Without it, she would not be here. Many working class people would not be here."
There is a printed or online survey available via www.sunderlandccg.nhs.uk and people can get hold of a paper copy by calling (0191) 217 2670.