No more NHS walk-in centres should be closed, warns watchdog
Monitor, the health service regulator, has raised concerns over the recent closures of NHS walk-in centres after research it carried out suggested this could severely increase the pressure on already struggling accident and emergency units.
Under previous Labour governments nearly 240 such walk-in centres were introduced, many of which provide seven-day services and extended hours for primary care. However, since the Coalition took charge in 2010, nearly one in four of these centres have been forced to close.
The research carried out by Monitor found that these centres provided essential healthcare to some of the most vulnerable groups and are also particularly popular with young people and women.
High-risk groups who are often not registered with a GP, such as the homeless, drug addicts and asylum seekers are likely to be worst affected by the closures. The research also found that “people from lower socio-economic groups tend to be the most common users of walk-in centres”.
However, walk-in centres offer greater convenience for many different types of people, especially those in full-time work, as many GP surgeries don’t offer extended opening hours, with two-thirds of those questioned in the research already registered at a GP.
22% of those already registered said they contacted their GP before attending a walk-in centre but were unable to get an appointment.
Nearly a fifth of those questioned said they would go to an accident and emergency unit if their walk-in centre had not been available, signalling that further closures could adversely affect hospitals’ emergency care services which are already under intense pressures.
Monitor’s executive director of co-operation and competition said in a statement published on the watchdog’s website: “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.”