THE reason why NHS walk-in centres are proving so popular, much to the consternation of GPs who want to protect the budgets of their own surgeries, is because they are convenient. This is illustrated by the unexpected number of patients who are using these access centres across Yorkshire. They are ideal for working people who have become exasperated by the inflexibility of their own doctor's surgery.
And, even if an individual's concern is relatively minor, these centres actually ease the workload of GPs who are always complaining that they are overstretched – a point that doctors appear to have conveniently forgotten as they step up their self-serving campaign against walk-in centres.
It is also why the Department of Health needs to set out, clearly, the type of basic service that it expects before it devolves unprecedented sums, and powers, to GPs to manage local services.
For, while many doctors are ideally qualified to understand the specific needs of their local community, it must be remembered that they were trained as medical practitioners – not accountants – and that their expertise lies in treating the sick and needy.
Furthermore, the fact that their appointments system, in many cases, is "not fit for purpose" – and more akin to a lottery – is another reason why Health Secretary Andrew Lansley needs to offer some clarity.
Even though Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and, more recently, David Cameron have all expressed dismay that patients face so many difficulties obtaining an appointment at a time that suits them, and some GPs appear to make up the rules as they go along about the release of booking slots, many doctors appear to be oblivious to the scale of this problem. They refuse to accept they are at fault – and then question why people are using walk-in centres, or even hospital casualty departments, in such numbers.
Until this mindset changes, the problems are likely to persist. For this reason, the Government must insist that walk-in centres remain an integral part of the NHS until GPs – a profession handsomely rewarded, financially, by New Labour – introduce a far more flexible, and enlightened, approach to appointments.