A campaign has been launched to safeguard the future of walk-in centres in North Tyneside.
Concerns have been raised by Save North Tyneside NHS that the facilities at Battle Hill, Shiremoor and North Tyneside General Hospital could be closed as part of £22billion in cuts being made nationwide by the NHS.
The centres have already seen their opening times cut over the winter as staff are redeployed to the new Northumbria emergency care hospital in Cramlington.
Campaigners say North Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is looking to close the centres.
But the CCG says it has drawn up plans to create a 24-hour urgent care service at one site – bringing all three together for the first time.
Should the merger take place, the new facility would come into effect from October 1, 2017, with discussions still taking place over the best location.
However, Tim Wall, of Save North Tyneside NHS, says they have already gathered a lot of support against any plans to close the centres, with nearly 2,000 people signing their petition.
He said: “We’ve had an amazing response from the public, we’ve been inundated.
“We’ve had stalls in North Shields and Wallsend and people have been lining up to sign the petition.
“People are really angry and don’t know what the future is.
“It is a false economy to get rid of the walk-in centres.
“There is a complete lack of transparency, people don’t feel as if they are being listened to.
“We want as many people as possible to write to the CCG to make their feelings known.
“We’re going to try and lobby the CCG and North Tyneside Council as the local authority is supposed to sign off on these proposals.
“The closure of any of these walk-in centres would represent a severe blow to ordinary people in North Tyneside, who depend on local health services as the government stretches already inadequate resources even thinner.
“Many people in working-class communities, already hit hard by poverty pay, cuts to social care funding and rising costs of public transport, will simply be unable to access NHS services if they are farmed out to Cramlington or other hospitals outside North Tyneside.”
Mr Wall added: “We need hundreds of people to get involved in our campaign. We’ve organised protests and meetings and plan more lobbying.”
The campaign group is holding a public meeting at North Tyneside Customer First Centre in Wallsend, from 6pm to 7pm on Thursday, December 15.
Speakers will include John Malcolm, UNISON service group executive (personal capacity) and John Kelly, North East Unite the Community.
Dr John Matthews, a local GP and Chair of NHS North Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “In October, local doctors and nurses took the decision to replace the existing walk in centres at Battle Hill, Rake Lane and Shiremoor with a single urgent care service for the whole borough.
“This new urgent care centre will be based in North Tyneside and for the first time it will offer residents access to an integrated 24/7 service.
“This followed a year-long consultation process in which over 700 people took the time to look at the evidence and share their views on the best way forward.
“Many people told us that they find the current system confusing and difficult to navigate, with too many access points providing overlapping services.
“As doctors and nurses we have a duty to provide the best possible services while cutting out duplication and making efficient use of our resources.
“In this case we can improve the services we provide by bringing them together at a single site within North Tyneside.
“We do understand that this kind of change can cause concern, but would emphasise that this decision was taken on the basis of clear clinical evidence.
“We also recognised that the current arrangements have a lot of overlap between different services and are simply not the best use of NHS resources.”