Mustard video: Health centre manager pledges to retain NHS walk-in centre in the heart of city
09:24 29 April 2014
The manager of an at-risk NHS walk-in centre has pledged that the facility will continue in Norwich for at least the next two years - however, it is not known yet where that will be.
Health centre ‘changed my life’
Elli Chapman had to wait more than 20 years to get a diagnosis for a rare genetic condition.
The 36-year-old, who lives in Chapelfield, Norwich, spoke of her concern after a health centre that “changed my life” was faced with uncertainty.
She transferred to Timber Hill Health Centre as a registered patient 18 months ago after years of frustration with the NHS.
“I have had problems with my limbs dislocating since I was 13 and never been able to get the right support from different doctors. I registered with Timber Hill Health Centre and I went from having to manage a rare condition on my own to having a diagnosis with pain control.”
The patient was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome - an inherited condition that affects collagen proteins in the body and can result in stretchy skin, loose joints and fragile body tissues. The condition affects one in 5,000 people in the UK.
The artistic director of Culture Works East said she was “really worried” about the future of the health centre in Castle Mall.
“I am genuinely concerned for me and my family. It is the first time I have had someone who understands and supports me with this condition.”
“The GP was really knowledgeable on the condition and pushed for the right things to be put in place. I have had more than 100 A&E admissions but my GP has got me to the point that I can manage some dislocations from home on my own. What he has done has made a big difference and taken the strain off the NHS,” she said.
The future of Timber Hill Health Centre was thrown into doubt earlier this month after the owners of Castle Mall unveiled redevelopment plans for the shopping centre, which would evict the GP practice and walk-in centre from its current home on level four. However, alternative proposals by the Mall owners to relocate the health centre to level two, near the Post Office, would be “impossible” because of the refit and higher rent costs, its manager said.
The Evening News launched a campaign to keep a walk-in centre in Norwich yesterday, which has already attracted dozens of online petition signatures.
Donna Laws-Chapman, centre manager at Norwich Practices Limited (NPL), said more than 130,000 patients came through the doors of the health centre last year and discussions had been held with the shopping centre’s previous owners about expanding at their current site.
However, owner InfraRed submitted a planning application to Norwich City Council on April 14 to convert level four into a restaurant quarter and a proposal to convert a shop unit on level two into a health centre.
Mrs Laws-Chapman said the landlords had offered to contribute £400,000 to the refit costs. However, the projected relocation and refurbishment costs were around £1m and “it is impossible to take on that level of debt.”
Timber Hill Health Centre opened in 2009 and the number of patients has grown every year at the walk-in facility, which is open seven days a week from 7am to 9pm.
Mrs Laws-Chapman added that a five year lease was the longest the practice could have taken out when it opened. However, the NHS had extended NPL’s contract to deliver a GP service and walk-in centre for another two years.
“We have looked at alternatives. There could be other options in the city centre. It needs to be accessible and it would need public transport and parking. We know what we were put here to do and a central location is our top priority.”
“There will be a service. We have a contract extension for another two years. There will be a service somewhere, but we can not tell you where. We have the will and the staff, but we need a building to run it from. We have 8,000 registered patients and we are still registering patients all the time. We can not shut it because where would they get their healthcare? If we shut the walk-in centre for a few weeks, A&E would be inundated,” she said.
Mrs Laws-Chapman added that talks were ongoing with the Mall owners to find a solution. The lease has ended for the health centre, but no date has yet been given for the practice, which employs 90 people, to move out.
“We would like to stay here and we have made that clear we do not want to move and we would like to expand on this floor.” However, that is not an option as far as the Mall owners are concerned. We will stay here for as long as we can - we can not start up a health centre over night. We would like to think we can come to an arrangement,” she said.
Paul McCarthy, manager of Castle Mall, said the proposed new health centre site was larger and in a more central location, closer to the pharmacy, the main car park and pedestrian routes from local bus services.
“Conscious that the health centre’s lease was due to expire this month, discussions with the operator of the health centre began in August 2012 and we have had regular meetings with them since, including latterly with representatives from the NHS. The proposed restaurant quarter will revitalise a dilapidated area within the Mall, create more than 120 permanent jobs and bring benefits to the retailers both in the Mall and in the surrounding area. This is not a question of ‘either/or’, It is possible to do both and we are committed to working with all parties to do just that,” he said.
■ How has the city centre walk-in centre helped you? Call Adam Gretton on 01603 772419 or email firstname.lastname@example.org