Health chiefs are pushing ahead with plans to change urgent care provision in North Tyneside.
NHS North Tyneside Clinical Commissiong Group (CCG), which is responsible for planning and buying most healthcare services in the borough, has been looking at urgent care facilities for over a year.
And at an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday, they agreed to move on with proposals for a provider to take on urgent care provision from October 1, 2018, despite strong objections from unions, politicians and residents.
A procurement exercise will now begin to find a provider for the new single, integrated urgent care service on a three year contract worth up to £3.8million a year – an increase on the £3.3million a year contract offered in the last procurement process.
The aim is to run the Urgent Treatment Centre from one site in the borough with walk-in access from 8am to midnight, and a GP appointment only out of hours service during evenings, nights and weekends through an improved NHS 111 service.
Calls have been made for it to be from North Tyneside General Hospital but CCG officials said that would only happen if Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust allowed the provider access to the hospital and so far they had failed to respond to requests if they would.
Overnight provision at the urgent care centre at North Tyneside General was suspended last December with doctors and nurses needed at the Northumbria emergency care hospital in Cramlington.
Minor changes have been made to the proposals following a four-week consultation which saw 394 residents complete a survey and 199 take part in discussions.
Dr John Matthews, a local GP and chairman of North Tyneside CCG, said: “The need for change has not gone away, but we will always listen and learn from local people’s views where we can.
“As a result of the engagement exercise, we have opened up the option of night-time appointments at the Urgent Treatment Centre, as well as extending the hours for walk-in access.
“We were always clear that North Tyneside would continue to have 24/7 urgent care services, through the Urgent Treatment Centre, supported by the GP out-of-hours service.
“People also told us they are confused about which services to use, or were not aware that they can get GP advice by calling NHS 111.
“These are things we can use to improve our marketing and reassure people that services will always be provided to meet their needs.
“We are determined to spend our local NHS’s money on the best possible mix of services.
“This means patients needing urgent care at night can get clinical advice easily by calling NHS 111, with the option of a home visit or an appointment at the Urgent Treatment Centre if that is appropriate.
“That means better use of NHS resources, and a range of options for patients. If necessary, the Accident & Emergency departments at the RVI and Cramlington hospitals are further options at night time.
“Rake Lane walk-in centre was used by around three patients per night, with around two-thirds of these needing little or no treatment.
“The new Urgent Treatment Centre can offer night-time appointments, but offering full walk-in access at night time would mean moving staff away from A&E, which would not be a good use of highly trained medical staff.
“This revised arrangement can offer patients greater reassurance as well as being more efficient.”
Organisations bidding to provide the service will be asked to identify a suitable site.
This may be an existing walk-in centre, or another location within North Tyneside.
The current urgent care services at Battle Hill Health Centre and Rake Lane will continue to operate until they are replaced by the new service in October 2018.
But campaigners have vowed to continue the fight against the changes.
William Garrett, of Save North Tyneside NHS, said: “We’ll step up our organisation and protests especially as we now have a clearer understanding of what their intentions are.
“It is clear, even at this late stage, we can’t get a commitment to retain the current facilities and that the door has been opened for a competitive bidder to enter into health services in North Tyneside.”