Monitor, the NHS regulator says that closures of 53 popular clinics could leave vulnerable people without access to GP care.
Whilst NHS walk-in clinics are hugely popular almost a quarter of them have been closed in the past three years. Many of those offered seven-day care and evening opening hours.
Health service regulator, Monitor, has said that there was a danger that closures could leave many patient without access to GP care. It is believed those hardest hit will be those unable to register with a surgery, as well as low-income working families and high-risk socially excluded groups such as homeless people, refugees and drug addicts.
Over 230 centres that offer family doctor services were set up in England between the year 2000 to 2010 so that access to care for patients who found it hard to register with a GP o were unable to get a timely appointment could be seen to.
Some of the closures seem to be due to the centres being too successful. NHS commissioning authorities that have closed walk-in centres told Monitor that the clinics triggered “unwarranted” demand among “worried well” patients for many minor conditions. Some said that they had closed centres to make savings as they could “no longer afford the convenience that walk-in centres offer,” reports the Guardian.
Monitor found that almost two-thirds of patients who attended walk-in centres were already registered with a GP. Over a fifth of these said that they had contacted their GP practise beforehand but were unable to get an appointment. 24% said that they didn’t bother to contact their GP as they assumed there would be no convenient appointments available.
When asked where they would go if the centre had not been available one in five said they would have gone to the nearest A&E unit, which is leading many to believe any closures will increase pressure on A&E services.
Monitors data shows that 53 walk-in centres have closed in the past three years and more are facing closure once the five-year operating contracts set up under the last government expire in 2014 and 2015.
Catherine Davies, Monitor’s executive director of co-operation and competition, said: “While it is for commissioners to decide whether to keep a walk-in centre open, we need to make sure that the needs of patients are fully considered before decisions are taken.”
The health minister, Lord Howe, said: “Patients should be able to access good-quality out-of-hours NHS services, without having to go to an A&E. Walk-in centres may be part of the answer, but this isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Family GPs, community services and pharmacists all have a part to play.”
Monitor said some GP practices were referring patients from their own list to walk-in centres because they were unable to provide them with a speedy appointment. “This suggests some practices are using the centres to meet the needs of some patients for whom they are paid to provide primary care, rather than responding to what these patients want.”
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