South Birmingham GP Walk-in Centre Update, April 2013

I created the Facebook group ‘I support Katie Road’ back in mid-March when I first heard about a review of Walk-in Centres and questions being asked about the future of Katie Road. It currently has 230 members. I have spent the past few weeks talking to hundreds of constituents and hearing of the life and death situations which have taken them to Katie Road. Sometimes they got treatment on the spot and were able to go home relieved. On other occasions they found themselves in hospital after finally seeing a doctor about a problem they’d been hanging onto while waiting for an appointment at their own GP or after a troubled and anxious weekend. I paid my most recent visit to Katie Road on the afternoon of the 4th April where I had an opportunity to see for myself the work of the centre and discuss matters with Clinical Director Dr Vora and other key members of staff.

It’s important to remember just how vital a service Katie Road is. It sees about 51,000 patients in the course of the year; about 250 every weekend and an average 40 people most afternoons. My visit was around 3pm and strangely enough there were 41 people waiting to be seen. While I was there two ambulance paramedics brought in a constituent of mine who’d fallen and badly cut her leg in the city centre. Their judgement was that the wound needed stitches and this was a 3 to 4 hour wait at the A&E at Queen Elizabeth hospital. I chatted to this lovely lady as she had her stitches inserted within 20 minutes of Katie Road. Apparently taking pressure of our A&E Department is just one of the vital services offered at Katie Road. Common uses are people who can’t get an appointment at their own doctor, parents worried about children, out of hours access and weekend emergencies.

Ironically the contract for this vital service is up for renewal in a little over 12 months and the first most people knew about it was reports of a ‘discreet’ review being conducted by private consultants on behalf of a shortly to be defunct regional health body.

 

Action taken so far:

 

  • I am currently awaiting a proper response from the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) which the Government expects to take on responsibility for the future of our Walk-in Centres. I’ve made it clear in my letter to the Clinical Commissioning Group that patients must be properly consulted: 

 

“....I believe patients should have a say in decision-making on the future shape of medical services in the city; particularly on the decommissioning of services. I notice the CCG is reported as saying no decision has yet been taken. Do you have plans for a consultation with patients and community stakeholders? Has a date been set for any consultation on the ‘review of services’? Is this something I and my parliamentary colleagues could work with the CCG on?...”

 

  • I’ve also tabled Parliamentary Questions on the issue to the Secretary of State for Health. I asked him what guidance the Department of Health has issued to the CCGs on the retention of walk-in centres and on consulting local people about any decisions which might result in discontinuing funding for walk-in centres. I also asked what discussions the Department of Health has had with NHS Trusts regarding potential closures to walk-in centres.

 

Responding to my Parliamentary Questions, Health Minister Anna Soubry MP said that no discussions between the Department for Health and Trusts had taken place and that “the provision of walk-in centre services, including funding, is a matter for the local national health service” and that the local national health service was actively “reviewing acute services across the city, including services provided by walk-in centres.” Clearly the Government is attempting to wash its hands of this matter but they set up Clinical Commissioning Groups; the government has siphoned money out of the health service to pay for their reorganisation plans; and it was Prime Minister David Cameron who made a solemn and binding pledge that he wouldn’t cut our NHS.

 

  • I don’t intend to let the Government off the hook quite as easily as Anna Soubry MP would like. My job is to protect services for my constituents and I am clear from those who’ve already been in touch with me that Katie Road is used by people right across my constituency; large numbers from all four wards (Billesley, Bournville, Brandwood and Selly Oak) are frequent users of this service.

 

  • I am consulting with other parliamentary colleagues about seeking a parliamentary debate solely on the issue of protecting our local health services.

 

  • We’ve already spoken to hundreds of constituents by phone and received hundreds of emails, letters and Facebook replies from people who support my campaign to save Katie Road.

 

 

Future of the Walk-in Centre:

 

I am not opposed to change and there may be a case for a more standard specification of the kind of services that walk-in centres should provide, There might also be an argument for reviewing the tariff paid for various services but what health bureaucrats should be doing is learning lessons to improve our health care from places like Katie Road.

They shouldn’t be contemplating closure behind closed doors. The first many of my constituents knew about this threat was when they read it in the newspaper. Like them, I was kept in the dark about this review. During the last Labour government when I was the government whip at the Department of Health and Alan Johnson was the Secretary of State for Health, he made it abundantly clear that local Members of Parliament must be kept informed about any matters affecting local health services. This is a lesson that the present government ought to learn.

The Urgent Care Joint Clinical Commissioning Group who are responsible for this review need to sharpen their act. I’d have thought one lesson that health bureaucrats might have learned from the fall-out from the Francis Report on the scandals at Mid Staffs Trust is that it’s our NHS, not theirs. Let me be absolutely clear; I am not going to permit any secret reviews to result in a loss of services for my constituents. I’m willing to work with these people but I’m also prepared to conduct this debate in the full glare of the media; it is their choice. The sooner they let us have access to their report and start discussing exactly how they plan to consult the public the better. They’re are going to be no rushed, quick fix, and pretend consultations on my watch. My constituents are going to have their say.

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