CAMPAIGNERS say they have been left ‘gutted’ after it was decided the closure plan for a medical centre in South Tyneside will not be reviewed by the Health Secretary.
South Tyneside Council and Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn wrote to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, asking for him to overturn South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) decision to close the Jarrow Walk In Centre.
The CCG decided in November, after a three-month local consultation, to press ahead with the plan to replace the centre – which dealt with 27,000 patients last year – with an urgent care hub at South Tyneside District Hospital in South Shields.
The new centre is due to open in October in a bid to make savings of up to £2m a year.
The Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) – which assess all calls for reviews – has ruled that the plan is not suitable for a full review by the Health Secretary. It says it is satisfied that, if the six recommendations outlined by the CCG’s consultation are put in place within a suitable timescale, then all parties involved should be “confident that local primary health services capacity in Jarrow and Hebburn is sufficient to mitigate for the change”.
Its report said: “The panel considers each referral on its merits and concludes that this referral is not suitable for a full review because further local action by the NHS with the council can address the issues raised.”
I’m gutted but not surprised. The CCG who delivered the evidence to the panel are the same people wanting to close the centre.Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn
Mr Hepburn says he is “gutted” that the review bid has fallen through, but is not surprised. He said: “I’m gutted but not surprised. The CCG who delivered the evidence to the panel are the same people wanting to close the centre.
“I am quite surprised that the panel’s report even points out that Jarrow Walk-In Centre was initially introduced to relieve pressure on A&E. Since it opened there’s been a consistent increase for its services and there’s not been the anticipated decrease in A&E attendance at South Tyneside Hospital.
“It’s just common sense that both should remain open. If we are being sensible, then a walk-in centre should also be opened in South Shields, to ease the A&E burden.”
Mr Hepburn is still urging the CCG to wait until after the election before the centre is closed, as he says he’s been told by shadow health secretary Andy Burham that it will remain open should Labour regain power.
While the council has confirmed its agreement with the principle of the urgent care hub it is pleased that the panel has recognised that changes to the plan still need to be made. The chairman of South Tyneside Council’s overview and scrutiny co-ordinating call In committee, Coun Rob Dix, said: “I’m pleased that the Secretary of State agrees with the council that the proposal for an urgent care hub is moving too quickly and recognises that changes need to be made at a local level before the walk-in centre closes.
“We look forward to working with our NHS partners to ensure the right action on issues such as GP access, enhanced pharmacy services, travel and car parking which will go a long way towards allaying the concerns of local people.”
Dr Matthew Walmsley, a local GP and chairman of South Tyneside CCG, said: “Both the Secretary of State and the independent panel have strongly endorsed the proposals and recognised that they will benefit patients by ensuring they can see the right professional, first time.
“The decision is no surprise, because the plan was always based on hard evidence about the most clinically effective ways to provide health care.
“With the walk-in centre and A&E on the same site, patients will come through a single front door and be guided to the best service for their needs. That will free up A&E staff to concentrate on genuine emergencies.
“Most people use NHS services sensibly, but a significant minority put an added strain on the system by using A&E for minor illnesses.
“It’s helpful that the council has agreed with the urgent care hub in principle, while highlighting a number of issues that need to be resolved first. We have always been clear that the changes will not take place until concerns around transport, access to GPs and awareness of the service available from pharmacists have been tackled.”