NHS forced to apologise after meningitis victim was refused treatment at local clinic

Colin Boulter. Pic: Emma Marvin

A pensioner who was refused treatment at his privately-run local medical centre and then later diagnosed with meningitis has lashed out at the privatization of the NHS.

Colin Boulter, 76, of Stamford Hill, felt unwell on March 31st and went to the Tollgate Centre on Stamford Hill, where he is registered, to use its walk-in service.

But he was turned away and told to come back when he had made an appointment with his GP.

Boulter later found out that Care UK, which runs the centre on behalf of the NHS East London and City Trust, has an agreement that it does not treat more than two per cent of its registered patients each month when it’s operating the walk-in service for unregistered patients. This quota had already been reached the day Boulter seeked help.

He told ELL: “I was incredulous. At first I could not believe what I was being told. It seemed so stupid that such a consideration should have even been countenanced by the local health authority. It wasn’t until I had confirmation in writing from Tollgate management that I appreciated it must be true.”

Care UK would not have been paid if Boulter had been treated.

Tollgate Centre on Stamford Hill turned Colin Boulter away. Pic: Emma Marvin

After being turned away, he then waited for over three hours without being seen at Homerton Hospital walk-in centre, before finally giving up and going home.

As his condition worsened, his wife decided to call for an ambulance. He was taken back to Homerton Hospital where he was diagnosed with meningistis.

“The only way I could get treatment is by doing something that we’re told not to do and that’s to call an ambulance.” He said.

Care UK spokesperson Sheila Roberts told ELL: “The right procedure was followed for the symptoms the patient displayed at the time he arrived at the centre, and he was correctly advised to go straight to the hospital if his symptoms worsened. Whilst we help everyone who visits the walk-in centre, we can only give treatment in line with the limits set by the local NHS.”

Care UK and the NHS have both apologised. Boulter said: “Quite frankly, I don’t really want an apology, just some reassurance that this won’t happen again.

“A massive deceit is being practiced on the population regarding the NHS. If you allow the service to be run by bodies such as Care UK, it is inevitable that revenue streams and cost constraints will come to dominate what should be the proper service offered by the NHS.

“Senior NHS management are just looking into their futures in terms of enhanced salaries by allowing this privatisation to carry on.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health told ELL: “We want patients to get the best possible care from the best providers, whether this is from the NHS, charities or the independent sector. We would expect organisations to use their common sense and not turn away patients in need.”

Walk-in services cost the NHS more than booked appointments for registered patients.

Steve Gilvin, director of primary care commissioning said: “There is a cap in place on this contract to ensure that the cost of a patient who is registered is not charged as a walk-in appointment”. He said the cap should not affect whether an appointment should be offered to a patient who needs to see a doctor urgently.

The NHS held a consultation last month on whether to get rid of the Tollgate Walk-in centre, along with Springfield Health Centre in Stoke Newington. It says the money saved would enable 9,600 more patients to register with GPs at the centres. However,  Boulter said: “This is not addressing the issue. If you have to wait over a week to get an appointment with your GP, many medical conditions are not the sort that allow themselves to be left for that length time. So, in this sense, a walk-in centre is necessary.”

Many doctors supported the move, but NHS North East London and the City has announced that it will retain the walk-in services at ‘key times’.

But Boulter added: “By restricting the walk-in centre, they are making the services worse rather than better.”


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