The Government has admitted that its new model of extended GP access was never intended to fill the hole left by Accrington’s closure-threatened walk-in centre.
Caroline Dinenage MP, Minister of State for Care, made the statement in a Parliamentary debate following an impassioned speech by Hyndburn MP Graham Jones to the House of Commons on Wednesday evening in which he asked for next month’s planned closure to be reconsidered.
In the speech Mr Jones outlined the financial implications of the site’s closure, which has been opposed by a petition to ministers signed by 26,000 residents, spoke of his positive personal experience as a patient there and claimed the ‘overwhelming’ majority of people want to see it stay open.
He told MPs: “This walk-in centre service means an awful lot to local people. The campaign has included petitions, walks, polls and articles, and has gathered huge support.
“The value and scale of the service provided by the Accrington Victoria walk-in centre cannot be overestimated. It has received an incredible 42,000 patient visits in the past 12 months. If it closes, many of those patients will simply go to A and E.
“An average patient visit to A and E costs about £124 compared with an average patient visit to the walk-in centre that costs about £60.”
Mr Jones also criticised the consultation, held by East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in 2016. The Observer reported last week how fewer than 400 people from Hyndburn who responded to the consultation, supported the decision.
The Hyndburn MP said: “In the CCG’s foggy consultation, it said that 61 per cent of people were ‘in support of’ its plans for more GP hours.
“Which resident is not going to say yes to more GP hours? That is not the same as 61 per cent of people saying, ‘Yes, and also please close my walk-in centre’.
“The results of it are grossly misleading, and it is important that the Minister takes that point on board. The Minister must stop this closure and ask for a new consultation.”
Sharing his own story of how the walk-in centre had helped him during a bout of acute bronchitis, Mr Jones highlighted the centre’s importance.
He said: “My own story sums up why this is the wrong decision. I went to the walk-in centre, where, following a two-hour wait, my condition was diagnosed. Without the assistance of GPs at the walk-in centre, my health could have deteriorated. I certainly would not have waited 10 days for a GP appointment; I would have gone to A and E.”
He also shared the results of his own Facebook survey. More than 6,000 people responded to the question ‘Do you want the walk-in centre to remain open?’.
According to Mr Jones, an overwhelming majority of people, 98 per cent, voted in support of keeping the centre open.
He thanked the 26,000 supporters who signed the petition, and praised the Accrington Observer for being at the ‘forefront’ of the campaign.
In response, Ms Dinenage said that the new service was not intended to replace the walk-in centre, but she made no commitment to reversing the decision to close it.
She said: “It is important to note that while the extended access service in Hyndburn is a new model of service provision, it is not meant directly to replace the walk-in centre per se.
“This new model of extended GP access meets the principles that were tested and supported by local people through a formal consultation process.
“I take on board what the hon. Gentleman says about the consultation and also the consultation that he ran on Facebook.
“The Lancashire overview and scrutiny committee alone has the power to refer the decision to the Secretary of State or the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, and it was minded not to. That is the unfortunate situation.”
The walk-in centre is due for closure by East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group on June 17.
Campaigners will be holding a protest march from the walk-in centre entrance on Haywood Road to Royal Blackburn Hospital this Saturday, May 26.
The 10km walk begins at 10am, ending at around 12noon.
Supporters can join the walk at its half-way point at West End Business Park in Oswaldtwistle, where an additional meeting point has been arranged for around 11am.
Organisers called on people to support the event, and encouraged walkers to bring banners.