Campaigners fighting to save Accrington’s walk-in centre have paid tribute to their ‘amazing’ and inspirational supporters as its doors are set to shut this weekend.
The vital walk-in centre service, based at Accrington Victoria Hospital, will close this Sunday after nine years, but not before protesters gather outside for one last show of solidarity and appreciation of NHS staff.
A 26,000-strong petition opposing the decision was handed to the government last month and Hyndburn MP Graham Jones won the issue precious parliamentary debating time as part of a campaign supported by the Observer - but the protests have ultimately proved in vain.
NHS bosses have confirmed the walk in centre will close on Sunday.
Despite the impending closure, Mr Jones said campaigners had ‘won the argument’ over the course of their battle to save the highly-regarded service, which first opened in 2009, and which he said handled 42,000 patients in the past year.
He said: “I can’t remember a campaign as passionate and as effective as they organised. They have organised an impressive campaign and mobilised thousands.
"I think that the support of the Accrington Observer was crucial and I take my hat off to the three leading campaigners: Chris Reid, Shahed Mahmood and Kimberley Whitehead.”
One of the campaign’s organisers, Kimberley Whitehead - Mr Jones’s partner - thanked the people of Accrington and surrounding townships, for their ‘amazing’ response to the campaign.
She said: “It’s been extremely challenging, rewarding and emotional at times. It has been a huge honour for us to represent and meet so many amazing people who have inspired us to keep going and I thank them for their support.
“Chris and I would like to thank everyone who have fought this campaign for years and of course to all the members of the public. They are all a credit to the town.”
Campaigners will gather at the Haywood Road entrance of the hospital at 7.30pm before the service closes its doors for a final time at 8pm on Sunday, June 17 for a respectful appreciation of the NHS staff and doctors who worked there.
Kimberley also thanked the Observer, among others, for their part in the campaign and said that the group would still look to press the CCG for a new walk-in service for Accrington.
She added: “We’re obviously deflated, but I don’t think we could have done anything more.”
Council leader Miles Parkinson said there are concerns over access to healthcare with the centre closing.
He said: “The campaigners dedicated a lot of time and effort and mobilised a lot of people. There’s overwhelming support for the walk-in centre and we don’t want to be proven right.”
Mark Youlton, accountable officer at NHS East Lancashire CCG, said: “The decision to decommission and close the Accrington Walk-in Centre was made following a public consultation on improving GP access across East Lancashire.
"In addition to regular GP services that patients access through their own surgery, more GP appointments have been made available in the evenings from 6.30pm to 8.30pm and from 10am to 4pm at weekends.
“There are alternative services in place if patients need any advice about a minor illness; they can call in at one of the many pharmacies available locally or ring 111 who will signpost patients to the right service for their need including, if appropriate, an appointment with an out of hours GP.”