Two popular GP walk-in centres facing the axe

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TWO more GP walk-in centres designed to improve access to NHS care face the axe in Yorkshire.

The future of the privately-run centres in Halifax and Todmorden has been uncertain for several years but now NHS bosses have confirmed they will shut on October 1.

Officials say alternative arrangements will be put in place at weekends when demand is highest but a new service will not be available until May.

The move comes as health regulator Monitor carries out a major review to find out why walk-in centres are closing across the country amid concerns it is hampering access to routine and urgent care.

The centres were opened by the Labour Government in 2008 under a flagship programme designed to improve access to care.

Critics claimed they were unnecessary and expensive. But most have proved hugely popular, attracting many more patients than expected for easy-access appointments – although their success has seen costs soar, triggering closures or cuts to opening hours in some cases.

The Park Community Practice in Halifax and and Calder Community Practice in Todmorden have been run by private firm Care UK since they opened.

Health chiefs expected about 650 patients a month to use the centres but during 2010-11 around 1,500 had appointments, significantly increasing costs. In April 2011, opening times were cut leading to a drop in numbers of patients using the services.

In a statement, health chiefs in Calderdale said Care UK had given notice on the contract.

Officials said it was hoped to commission an “interim service” at weekends and bank holidays until a new service was set up in May.

A spokeswoman said: “We are currently looking at potential providers of this interim service.”

She said officials were looking at the evidence and economic case for “community-based unscheduled care services” and were carrying out consultations with communities across Calderdale.

Care UK said: “Care UK and the local NHS commissioner decided mutually to hand both practices over to a new provider.

“The practices have, and will continue to deliver, convenient access to high quality healthcare for local people.

“Patients comment positively about their experiences at Calder Community Practice and Park Community Practice, and we are proud of the progress made in improving the services offered to both communities.

“We will work in partnership with NHS England and the new provider to ensure a smooth transition which does not impact on the quality of services offered to patients.”

Barnsley’s access centre became the first to close in the region three years ago.

Opening hours have been slashed at the Bradford surgery which was the first in the country to be opened under the programme by former Health Secretary Alan Johnson.

Hours have also been cut at the Dewsbury centre and the Scunthorpe surgery no longer opens on Sundays and bank holidays.

A walk-in service aimed at commuters, which was opened under a separate programme in Leeds city centre, also closed down in 2011.

Health chiefs in Rotherham plan to shut its walk-in centre and move it to the town’s hospital as part of moves to bring urgent care services together in one place.

Officials say the change would mean the new urgent care centre, due to open by spring 2015, would improve access by opening 24 hours a day although local people have complained it will be more difficult to get to.

Monitor’s initial findings on walk-in services are due to be published later this year.