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Walsall urgent care centre to be axed after just 18 months

An urgent care centre which opened just 18 months ago at a cost of £1m to help ease pressure at Walsall Manor Hospital’s A&E could be shut within months.

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Health chiefs Paul Jones, Dr Anand Rischie, Tony Stuchfield and Phil Griffin celebrate the opening of the £1m centre in 2016

The centre was hailed as a vital service that would help out with emergency care. Based at the Saddlers Centre it sees around 120 people a day dealing with non-life threatening injuries and illnesses.

But now Walsall Clinical Commissioning Group wants to axe the centre, run by Primecare, by November to save £951,000 a year in running costs.

Bosses have justified the move by stating attendances are not as high as expected for the service, and they have vowed to inject half of the money saved into expanding capacity at the town’s other urgent care centre at the Manor, in order for it to cope.

Another option is to reduce the operating times from 8am to 8pm to 10am to 4pm, but that would only yield savings of around £209,000 a year.

Walsall Council’s health boss questioned whether the move was in the ‘best interests’ of patients.

Councillor Ian Robertson said: “I can understand the reasoning behind it. They are faced with a deficit and they have to make savings so I see where they are coming from.

“But the most important thing is what is in the best interests of the patients. I am not sure it is entirely in their best interests to close that.

“In terms of trying to divert people from A&E of course having an urgent care centre is extremely helpful. It is quite well used.”

He added: “There needs to be a great deal more awareness among the public around what is happening so they know the best place to go if they need care. That is the most important thing.” The urgent care centre opened in January 2016 having being relocated and re-named from the walk-in centre at Market Square.

This month’s CCG board papers state it was always the intention for Walsall to only have one urgent care centre, based at the hospital, from 2019 with the opening of the town centre facility described as an ‘interim’ plan. But now it appears it will be closed two years earlier than originally thought.

A spokesman for the CCG said activity levels had been lower than planned and a majority of treatments could have been addressed via self-care, pharmacy, calling NHS 111, referral to the GP Out-of-Hours Service or by making an appointment with the patient’s own GP.

The spokesman added: “There are suitable alternative services for patients who use the town centre site: The urgent care centre at the Manor Hospital is only half a mile away and offers the same service with longer opening hours; many patients could go to see their own GP or, in evenings or at weekends, use the GP out-of-hours service; and the NHS 111 service would be a suitable alternative for other patients.”