News & reviews

26/11/2012

What’s up with Bath’s Walk-In Centre?

There are plans to close Bath’s Walk-In Centre (currently in James Street West) and transfer the services offered to the RUH. For some months, there has been much debate about this proposal, including public meetings, letters in the local newspaper and an online petition against the closure has been set up.

We've put together a summary to help you understand what this is all about and why there's some concern:

Where is the Walk-In Centre and what does it offer?
The Bath NHS Healthcare Centre Centre, currently based at Riverside in James Street West, is a GP-led centre open seven days a week, operating on a ‘walk-in’ basis.  The Centre provides care for patients with minor injury or illness. (There are three other NHS clinics in the Riverside building  but these do not form part of the ‘walk-in’ service and are not affected by the plans.) The Centre provides a popular service, with about 30,00 visits a year recorded. It makes it easy to access a GP (or Nurse Practitioner) out of hours and at weekends.

How long has the central Bath Walk-in Centre been there?
Prior to the opening of the GP-led Health Centre in April 2009, Bath had a nurse-led walk-in centre for seven years. GP-led Health Centres were created as part of a national initiative by the government to provide convenient access to basic primary care services without the need for an appointment.

Who is making the decisions about the future of this service?
NHS B&NES Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) which takes control of local health services in April 2013. CCGs are replacing Primary Care Trusts as the new health commissioning organisations, under the government’s new Health & Social Care Bill. The CCG’s plan is to move the Walk-In services from March 2014 to the RUH by creating a 24/7 GP service there. You can find out more about B&NES CCG at www.bathandnortheastsomersetccg.nhs.uk

Why is this change being proposed?
As you can probably guess, cost cutting is at the heart of this proposal. B&NES CCG argues that “the majority of people attending the GP-led Health Centre are people who could be seen at their GP practice which means we are duplicating services and effectively paying twice.” They say that closure of the current Centre would save £1.3m but moving it to the RUH would mean an estimated one-off saving of £500,000 and ongoing savings of about £150,000 each year – which could be redirected to areas of increasing demand (including dementia, diabetes and elderly care). The CCG also argues that the Walk-In Centre was supposed to reduce demand at the RUH’s emergency department but this did not happen.

What are the arguments against the closure?
Over 1,200 people have signed an online petition against the closure set up by the Bath Labour Party Action Team (find it at www.change.org). Campaigners argue that the proposed savings represent only about 0.1% of the total healthcare budget and the services is well-used. There are concerns that it will be much harder for patients to access the services at the RUH; particularly those who are not registered with a local GP, people who find it difficult to get a GP appointment outside their working hours, visitors and homeless people. Travelling to the RUH is also being flagged as a major issue, as the hospital already has parking problems and buses are both costly – and difficult to use – for some people.

What’s been happening recently?
With the pressure on from both the public and other organisations (including Sirona), the CCG are now looking at the various issues raised. The ‘Urgent Care Network working party’ are advising on the proposal and looking at possible solutions. These include how to make it easier for people to both visit the proposed urgent care centre at the RUH and to get appointments with their GP surgery. Another area of concern is the provision of adequate primary care cover at weekends and in the middle of the day.

Update at end November
It's now being confirmed (via the Bath Labour Action Team) that it looks like the Walk-In Centre will be closing in April 2014.  The  local Wellbeing Policy Development & Scrutiny Panel of B&NES Council have not challenged the PCT's plans to close the Centre. Apparently, there will be an incentive scheme to encourage GPs to extend their services and the Panel have asked for feedback from the PCT in six month's time about the progress being made on this issue. It's still not clear how the other areas of concern, including the difficulty in travelling to the RUH for certain groups, will be addressed.