'We listened to the public' say Sunderland health chiefs as they agree to close three walk-in services

Health chiefs insist they listened to feedback from the public before rubber-stamping the closure of three walk-in centres in Sunderland, Houghton and Washington.

By Gary Welford
Tuesday, 29 January, 2019, 15:21
Dr Ian Pattison, right, at today's meeting of the Sunderland clinical commissioning group, which decided to close three walk-in centres.

NHS Sunderland CCG, the body responsible for the commissioning of local health services, today decided the future of urgent care services following a 16-week consultation period.

Campaigners protesting about the closure of the walk-in centres at Bunny Hill, Houghton and Washington before today's meeting of the Sunderland CCG board.

Instead, patients will have to attend an urgent treatment centre at Pallion Health Centre, or one of five extended access services located throughout the city.

Following concerns voiced by members of the public, minor injuries services will be available at Houghton and Washington, as well as at Pallion.

The clinical commissioning group decided that from April, patients only need to call their own GP practice or 111 to access urgent healthcare.

Services that will be available include:

The walk-in centre will close at Bunny Hill Primary Care Centre in Sunderland.

* An integrated urgent care service (111) which has been available from October 2018.

* A Recovery at Home service which supports vulnerable patients with complex needs to remain at home. This team (which includes a GP) responds quickly to provide intensive support to those who need more help while they are getting back to normal after a short term illness or injury in their own home, a care home or on discharge from hospital.

* There will be 45,000 GP appointments per year (including an additional 14,000 from April 2019) through the Sunderland Extended Access Service.

Patients will need to book an appointment through their GP practice, with the service available from 6pm-8.30pm Monday to Friday, 9am-5.30pm at weekends and 10am-2pm on bank holidays.

The walk-in centre will also close at Washington Primary Care Centre, though a minor injury service will be available by appointment..

From April this will be at five locations in Sunderland (Pallion Health Centre, Bunny Hill Primary Care Centre, Houghton Primary Care Centre, Riverview Health Centre, Washington Primary Care Centre).

* Minor injury services can be accessed at the urgent treatment centre at Pallion Health Centre (open 10am to 10pm Monday to Friday and 8am-10pm weekends and bank holidays) and via appointment at the Sunderland Extended Access Service in Houghton Primary Care Centre and Washington Primary Care Centre.

Dr Ian Pattison, chair for NHS Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We have been very clear from the start that the current services cannot continue the way they are.

"Our role in the NHS is to ensure that we are providing the best possible healthcare with the resources that we have.

Houghton Primary care Centre will also lose its walk-in centre, though a minor injury service will be available by appointment.

“In making our decision we have taken into consideration the feedback from members of the public.

"We have made changes to our clinical model as a direct result by providing more access to minor injuries services in Washington and Coalfields areas.

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"We will be using the primary care centre buildings in Sunderland for the Sunderland Extended Access service, which replaces the walk-in services that are currently there.

“We would like to thank everyone who took the time to get involved. The feedback people provided really did influence our decision.

"By reviewing all the evidence that has been collected, we firmly believe that we have made the right decision for the future of urgent care services for the people of Sunderland.”

Any changes will only take place when robust plans are in place to ensure that patient care is not affected.

Campaigners making their point about the closures outside today's Sunderland CCG board meeting.

Concerns that were raised by the public

In making the decision to withdraw the walk-in services, the CCG says it responded to the key concerns raised in the feedback from the consultation. This includes:

* Travel and transport – people will be able to access medical help for both minor injuries and illnesses at Washington Primary Care Centre and Houghton Primary Care Centre. For people living in/close to the Coalfields and Washington area this means that they may not need to travel to Pallion urgent treatment centre for these services.

* Communication – members of the public and clinicians identified that there needs to be clear communication about this new model following the decision. This will be a key feature in getting the service ready for April 2019 and there are plans being developed for this now.

* Opening hours – the opening hours of the services will be:

Urgent treatment centre at Pallion: 10am to 10pm Monday to Friday and 8am-10pm weekends and bank holidays

Sunderland Extended Access Services: 6pm-8.30pm Monday to Friday, 9am-5.30pm weekends and 10am-2pm on bank holidays

These are the opening times that were consulted on, and they will be monitored, as different suggestions regarding the opening times for the urgent treatment centre were made.

* Buildings – the walk-in urgent care services will be closing and will be replaced with the Sunderland Extended Access Services. No other services in Washington Primary Care Centre, Houghton Primary Care Centre, Bunny Hill Primary Care Centre will be affected.

The urgent treatment centre at Pallion will now be the walk-in service but the easiest way to access urgent healthcare would be to call your GP practice or call 111.

* Parking and reception area at Pallion – the public raised concerns about parking and the space available at the reception area at Pallion Health Centre. The CCG has started a review to address these concerns.

* Joining up of services – feedback from the public and clinicians identified a preference for joining up the urgent treatment centre and Sunderland Extended Access services at Pallion. This means that staff working at Pallion can work wherever they need to depending on the demand of the urgent treatment centre or the Sunderland Extended Access Service.

* Workforce – there were concerns about GP capacity to provide the Sunderland Extended Access Service and the urgent treatment centre.

The CCG has reviewed this extensively and is confident that by joining up services and using initiatives linked with the GP strategy such as Recovery at Home that this will provide the flexibility and time for GP services to deliver the additional appointments. In addition, GPs are already delivering some of the Sunderland Extended Access appointments.