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Campaign launched to save NHS walk-in centre in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 12:11 28 April 2014 | UPDATED: 18:25 28 April 2014

Norwich MP's Simon Wright and Chloe Smith outside Castle Mall where the the Timber Hill Health Centre is under threat of closure. Photo: Steve Adams

Norwich MP's Simon Wright and Chloe Smith outside Castle Mall where the the Timber Hill Health Centre is under threat of closure. Photo: Steve Adams

Fears have been raised that a valued NHS walk-in centre in Norwich could be moved outside the city after the future of an in demand facility was thrown into doubt.

What are the options

For Timber Hill Health Centre to stay where it is and renew its lease:

Pros - The future of the NHS walk-in centre would be secured, which employs 90 staff.

Cons - The Castle Mall’s multi-million pound refurbishment proposals to create six restaurants would be hampered, which aims to create 120 new jobs.

For Timber Hill Health Centre to move elsewhere in the Mall:

Pros - The new proposed site is bigger to cater for more patients and to potentially offer more services, and it is a more central location.

Cons - Rents would be higher and there would also be relocation costs.

For the health centre to move elsewhere in the city:

Pros - Depending on the location, rents could be lower. The site would stay within walking distance of thousands of people who live and work in Norwich.

Cons - A move could potentially disrupt services. Officials would not have much time to find alternative premises.

For the centre to relocate to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital:

Pros - A move to Colney could help to further relieve pressures on A&E and would encourage closer working between primary care and emergency care workers. It would also avoid duplication.

Cons - Reduces access to healthcare in the city centre and could reduce the health of disadvantaged communities and people not registered with a GP surgery.

For Timber Hill Health Centre to be decommissioned:

Pros - Would save the NHS money and may reduce confusion about where to go for the first point of contact for out-of-hours primary care.

Cons - Loss of a valued service, loss of skilled workforce, and increase in health inequalities across Norwich.

The Evening News today launches a campaign to retain a health centre in the heart of Norwich after a question mark was raised over Timber Hill Health Centre as a result of a proposed redevelopment of the Castle Mall.

The owners of the Norwich shopping centre have submitted plans to Norwich City Council to transform level four of the site into a restaurant quarter, which would evict the GP practice, walk-in centre, and travel clinic that opened five years ago.

Owner InfraRed has also submitted a planning application to convert a retail unit on level two of the mall for Timber Hill Health Centre. However, officials from Norwich Practices Limited have rejected the proposals because of relocation costs and higher rents.

Concerns have now been raised that the facility could be relocated to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital at Colney to help relieve A&E pressures.

The Evening News has launched a petition and Norwich’s two MPs have joined the campaign to keep a health centre in the city.

• To sign the petition click here.

Nigel Pickover, editor-in-chief of the Evening News, said: “Tens of thousands of local patients rely on this vital service every year. With the future of the walk-in centre in question, now is the time for people to tell NHS chiefs how important Timber Hill Health Centre is to them and how crucial it is for the facility to stay in the city. You can show your support by backing our campaign by filling in our petition to make your views known.”

Simon Wright, Norwich South MP, and Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North, who will meet with NHS England officials on Friday , said they wanted a commitment from health chiefs to see the service continue in the Norwich city area, if Timber Hill Health Centre closed later this year.

Mr Wright said Timber Hill Health Centre had made healthcare more accessible for young people, disadvantaged members of society, and those not registered with a GP.

“I think it does ease pressure on A&E and that is a really important consideration. It serves a really important function in helping people to get access to care that would otherwise deteriorate to more serious situations.”

“There has been various suggestions that it could bolster provision at the N&N, but that is not going to satisfy the huge benefit of having a city centre location. I think it is vital that people who use Timber Hill Health Centre as walk-in patients or registered patients that they contact their MPs and get behind the Evening News campaign. It is vital NHS England has a full view of why this is so important to the city,” he said.

The walk-in centre, which is open from 7am to 9pm, has grown from 65,000 cases a year when it first opened to almost 75,000 walk-in patients a year. The GP practice also has 8,000 registered patients.

Ms Smith added that the centre was convenient for people living and working in Norwich.

“My constituents have had to put up with a closure in Dussindale and should not have to put up with a second. I will do everything in my power to encourage the parties to find a sensible solution. We need a city centre facility to stay in place and certainly from the point of view of the north side of the city, moving to the N&N would be very unwise,” she said.

Officials from Norwich Practices Limited said that the walk-in centre has kept about 40 people a day out of A&E at the N&N.

A letter to patients said the proposed new location in the Mall would result in rents being more than a third higher and refit costs would be almost £1m.

A spokesman for InfraRed said discussions began with practice managers last autumn about a relocation of the health centre on expiry of its lease in September to a larger unit.

“We retain a desire to keep the health centre within Castle Mall and have offered to make a significant contribution to the costs of the move and fit-out of the new premises.”

Katie Norton, director of commissioning for NHS England, said it was “disappointing” that the Castle Mall had not renewed the centre’s lease.

“We recognise the important services provided by Timber Hill Health Centre and we are committed to working with Timber Hill and the clinical commissioning groups in Norfolk to identify options for the future. It is important to recognise that Timber Hill is a purpose-built medical centre and moving it will cause considerable disruption,” she said.

The petition can be signed online at www.eveningnews24.co.uk

How has the city centre walk-in centre helped you? Call Adam Gretton on 01603 772419 or email adam.gretton@archant.co.uk

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