LOCAL church leaders are backing the fight to save a popular health facility in South Tyneside from the axe.
The campaign against the proposed closure of the walk-in centre at Palmer Community Hospital in Jarrow is gaining momentum, with more than 1,250 people already signing a protest petition against the plans.
Churches in Jarrow are supporting the health campaign, with ministers and lay members collecting names on the petition.
The Reverend Roy Merrin, for Grange Road Baptist Church, Jarrow, said: “I would say that most church people in Jarrow are opposed to closure.
“Officials from South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) say they have not yet reached a final decision on the closure of the unit, but I feel that some of those signing our petition are doing so with a sense of resignation, as though the decision to close the Jarrow unit has already been taken.”
The proposed closure of the Jarrow walk-in centre, which was launched to provide fast access to health information and treatment for minor injuries and illnesses without an appointment, is part of a health service shake-up aimed at saving £2m a year, by reducing the number of unnecessary visits to A&E units.
Officials of the NHS South Tyneside CCG say the walk-in centre at the town centre hospital, in Wear Street, Jarrow, has not taken pressure off the A&E unit at the district hospital, as originally intended.
New statistics show that 60 per cent of patients seen at the A&E department at the district hospital do not require treatment.
Health plans include improving access to GPs and pharmacies for minor illnesses and ailments, plus the creation of a new urgent care one-stop shop at the South Shields hospital.
If the CCG plans are approved, the Jarrow health facility could close as early as May next year, despite a campaign being led by town MP Stephen Hepburn and the local clergy.
Mr Merrin, who has helped collect the petition against closure of the walk-in facility at local churches and the Morrisons store in Jarrow, also attended a CCG public consultation meeting at Bede’s World, Jarrow, last week.
He said: “The meeting was attended by about 35 members of the public.
“The rationale for the proposed closure of the Jarrow walk-in centre was outlined by Christine Briggs, director of operations for the CCG.
“Almost all those who spoke in response to the proposed closure of the walk-in centre and its relocation to the A&E department at South Tyneside District Hospital were against the proposal.”
Mr Merrin said concerns were expressed at the meeting about transport, parking facilities at the district hospital and whether the A&E department could cope with extra patients, if the Jarrow unit closes.
There were also anxieties about the effectiveness of a one-stop health shop, while some thought the reliance on GPs and pharmacies to meet future heath needs was “unrealistic”.
Mr Merrin added: “In response to comments made, Dr David Hambleton, chief officer for the NHS South Tyneside CCG, said that the idea that 27,000 extra people would be attending the A&E department was not right and that people would use their GPs and pharmacists.
“He also stated that all clinicians consulted about the proposals were in favour of them.”
Responding to questions this week from councillors at South Tyneside Council’s overview and scrutiny committee, Dr Hambleton denied that the closure plans were “all about money”.
He said: “I can’t sit here and say it’s working because it is not achieving what it was set up to do – taking pressure off critical need services.”
Another public consultation meeting about the planned health changes will be held at the Millennium Phab Club, in Grange Road, Jarrow, on Monday, August 4, from 5.30pm to 7pm.
Yesterday, the Gazette reported how members of South Tyneside Council’s overview and scrutiny committee ordered the consultation process to be extended by a month from its original end date of August 22.