Vulnerable patients in Lewisham and bordering areas could be losing the only remaining walk-in centre for urgent and non-urgent healthcare services in south-east London.
Local pressure group Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign (SLHC) has warned that proposed closure of the walk-in centre in New Cross will leave patients who are not registered with a GP unable to receive medical help.
They are urging locals to get involved in the fight to prevent the centre, based at Waldron Health Centre on Amersham Vale road, from closing when its contract ends on December 31 this year.
Local residents and campaign groups are outraged by not only the possibility of losing this necessary service, but also the way in which Lewisham Clinical Commissioning Group (LCCG) went about it.
Lewisham CCG have written a proposal about the closure, stating they want to improve both urgent and non-urgent care in Lewisham and were looking into closing the walk-in centre as part of this.
The SLHC, a community campaign defending Lewisham NHS services, have written a letter in response to this proposal warning that vulnerable patients could be left without access to a doctor.
They said the consultation had begun too soon and that local NHS staff were not made aware of the potential closure prior to the public consultation and have called on local members of the public to respond with their views and ideas.
A spokesperson from SLHC told Eastlondonlines: “The rationale for setting up the walk-in centre included aims to serve hard-to reach groups including those who have not registered with an NHS GP… vulnerable patients not registered with a GP will not be allowed to attend the primary care provision [Lewisham CCG] point, based at Lewisham Hospital – only registered patients can be booked into that provision as this is outlined currently.
“Assumptions are being made about those people that may not be correct and they could be very vulnerable groups of people who will not be able to access the GP service in Lewisham hospital.”
In their consultation report, Lewisham CCG said patients in the area had been confused about which primary care service was right for them, resulting in patients not always seen in the right setting or at the right time. With their proposal to close the walk-in centre, they have said they want to “improve provision and access to urgent and non-urgent primary care services in Lewisham by increasing use of the GP Extended Access Service”.
The GP Extended Access Service is located at the University Hospital Lewisham and offers bookable appointments with GPs, nurses, and video consultations for anyone registered with a Lewisham GP.
Other services offered in Lewisham include the out-of-hours GP service, which offers services from 6.30-8pm on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends and holidays. There is also an urgent care centre at University Hospital Lewisham open 24 hours year-round.
The New Cross Walk-in Centre received 29,528 patients from 2016-2017, costing Lewisham CCG £748,000. The top six most common conditions seen were wound care, limb pain, sore throat, cough, skin issues/rashes, and urinary tract infections. When Lewisham CCG asked patients why they went there, 46 per cent said it was because they didn’t think they would be able to get an appointment with their GP.
Lewisham CCG told ELL that patients in the area would still be able to get medical appointments even when their GP surgeries were too busy. A spokesperson said: “The GP Extended Access service plans to deliver an additional 25,426 bookable appointments in 2017 increasing to 29,914 bookable appointments in 2018.
“We are also working with our GP practices to improve the overall experience for people making appointments including funding improved telephone and call management systems and also supporting practices to make it easier for people to book appointments, order repeat prescriptions and access their medical records online.”
Lewisham CCG’s consultation document explain that they believe the walk-in centre isn’t always used properly because the public aren’t clear on what services are most relevant to their needs. When asked about bookable appointments, 82.2 per cent of patients said they would “consider using another service which offered bookable appointments at another location, if their own GP practice did not have appointments available”.
If the walk-in centre closes, Lewisham CCG says that all people who need an urgent appointment would have to go through GP Extended Access Service.
Speaking about their commitment to improving access to GPs and making sure the public is aware of alternate services, Lewisham CCG told ELL: “Our priority is making sure that primary care services are easy to use, joined up and focus on helping people stay well.” Included in their list of actions were removing the overlap and duplication of services, and provide clear messages to people on how to access care.
There are a few differences between the way the walk-in centre is run and how the GP Extended Access Service is run. They are both open the same days and hours – 8am to 8pm, seven days a week, including public holidays. With Extended Access Service, however, GPs are able to see patient’s records and patients are able to book appointments. Walk-ins are not allowed.
SLHC told ELL: “We believe Lewisham CCG should not cut current provision without replacing it with at least as good, safe and accessible a service alternative – and better is sorely needed.”
Information on SLHC and their response to Lewisham CCG can be found here.
Lewisham CCG are running a 12-week consultation held at New Cross Walk-in Centre until 30 October. Their full consultation document is available to read here.
Members of the public can also complete a survey with their feedback on the proposals here.