JARROW MP Stephen Hepburn has called plans to close a popular medical facility in South Tyneside “a cut too far”.
Health bosses want to shut the Jarrow Walk-In Centre at Palmer Community Hospital in Jarrow, despite more than 27,000 people using the unit over the last year – an increase from 12,000 a year when it opened in 2010.
The plans are being opposed by South Tyneside Public Services Alliance, which has launched a petition against closure.
There is growing opposition to closure of the Jarrow facility, when its contract runs out next year, as part of wider proposals that would see a new urgent care ‘one-stop shop’ at South Tyneside District Hospital in South Shields.
The closure plans sparked fears about the long-term future of Palmer Community Hospital, which opened in the 1980s, although these were by emphatically rejected by Dr Matthew Walmsley, GP chairman of NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG),this week.
Speaking after a meeting with Dr Walmsley, Mr Hepburn said: “Basically, this is about cuts. The CCG can dress it up any way it wants, but this is a cut too far.
“Health officials say about half of the people who attend Jarrow Walk-In Centre don’t need to attend, but that leaves another 50 per cent of people who benefited from the facility.
“There are many people who find it difficult to get an appointment with their GP and people with an aggravating cough or a pain in their stomach could be found to have much more serious medical problems, thanks to a visit to the Jarrow Walk-In Centre.
“I believe there is definitely a need for the facility in Jarrow, which two women from the local Labour Party campaigned for, collecting many names on a petition in support of securing the centre.
“I would urge people to support the petition being led by Unison and register their objections on the consultation document.”
Opposition to closure is also growing within the local community, including Jarrow churches.
The Reverend Roy Merrin, of Grange Road Baptist Church, Jarrow, said: “I think it’s a deplorable idea and everyone we have spoken to in Jarrow feels the same way.
“Firstly, I think closure will be to the detriment of the many thousands of people who use the facility, including young mothers, senior citizens and the unemployed.
“Health officials claim pharmacies can offer medical advice and support, but can they diagnose serious, underlying medical problems? Finally, there is the feeling that yet another service will be lost in Jarrow and that everything is being centralised in South Shields.”
Dr Walmsley, for the CCG, speaking at a public meeting this week about changes to local urgent care services, said there are “no plans” to close Palmer Community Hospital.
Following his meeting with Mr Hepburn, he said: “I was very pleased to meet Mr Hepburn and provide some broader context to our proposals and how we as a group of clinicians in the CCG believe that they will help provide better, more responsive access to urgent care for everyone across the borough.
“I do, of course, naturally understand concerns people may have about the proposal to relocate the walk-in service currently in Jarrow, so we can create a one-stop shop ‘urgent care hub’ on the site of South Tyneside Hospital.
“I would encourage as many people as possible to read about our proposals, or attend one of our public meetings – and most importantly, respond to our consultation.
“We are keen to hear about what people think about them, and how we can work together to ensure the best possible healthcare and health services for the people of South Tyneside.”
South Tyneside CCG launched a 12-week public consultation over the proposals on May 28.
Health chiefs say they are trying to reduce the number of unnecessary visits to A&E which would save £2m a year.
According to CCG figures, 56,508 patients were seen and treated at South Tyneside General Hospital A&E in 2012/13 at a cost of £5.3m.
Of those, 33,379 – 60 per cent – didn’t require treatment.
People are invited to attend public meetings on planned changes to urgent care services at Bede’s World, in Church Bank, Jarrow, on Thursday, July 10, between 6pm and 7.30pm, and the Millennium Phab Club, in Grange Road, Jarrow, on Monday, August 4, from 5.30pm to 7pm.