Walk-in medical services are to continue to be available in Hastings town centre as NHS commissioners move ahead with plans to trial a ‘primary care led hub’, councillors heard this week.
On Thursday (September 26), East Sussex’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) were told about details of revised plans for the future of the Station Plaza Walk-in Centre in Hastings.
The centre had previously been earmarked for closure as part of wider proposals from both the Hastings & Rother and Eastbourne, Hailsham and Seaford Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG).
After working on the proposals, however, the CCGs are now looking at trialling a “primary care led hub” at the centre instead, which are expected to see walk-in services retained.
Discussing the plans with councillors, the CCGs managing director Jessica Britton said it was hoped service users would not see any significant short term changes as a result of the trial.
She said: “Hopefully people wouldn’t see a great deal of difference in the first instance. You arrive somewhere and behind the scenes that wraps around to support the need.
“The key differences [include] a difference in opening hours. We anticipate trying out closing the walk-in centre at 6.30pm, because the demand [at that time] is very, very small.
“The second thing that might feel different is that in the majority of cases people [would be] well-managed through an advanced nurse practitioner led service, rather than a GP led service.
“As a patient, you may not experience that as an enormous difference, but it is actually quite a different clinical model of working.”
However, Ms Britton said, more differences would come in the long-run with the new hub intended to provide greater ‘integrated services’.
This would mean people would be directed to services other than GPs or nurse practitioners where appropriate, such as community nursing or the county council’s social care teams.
Ms Britton used the example of people coming to the walk-in centre with concerns over benefits or housing issues, which had been diverting GPs away from other patients.
Details of the model, however, saw some concerns raised by HOSC members. They included county councillor Angharad Davies (Con, Northern Rother).
She said: “In somewhere like Hastings there are people going into a walk-in centre who don’t necessarily have a GP, because we know GPs are a bit thin on the ground.
“If you develop this primary care led hub in the way in the way you have described, it seems to me that it will be difficult for people to get access to a GP on an ad hoc basis.
“Unless there is a big increase in the GP practices in Hastings, I don’t think the new primary care led hub will be as good for people, possibly, as the walk-in centre.”
In response, Mr Britton said the service would always ensure there was a way for patients to access a GP through the hub if that is what they required.
She also said most people currently using the walk-in centre are registered with a GP in the town, but had chosen to use the centre instead.
Ms Britton said the decision to trial the new hub was taken after research into how the current walk-in centre is used.
This research showed that there was an increasing demand for some of the services offered at the walk-in centre and that it was a first point-of-call for a small number of people with complex needs.
This was welcomed by Labour councillor Mike Turner, who sits on HOSC as a representative of Hastings Borough Council, although he also drew attention to his concerns for healthcare in Hastings more generally.
Cllr Turner said: “I’m pleased I have to say that the demographics and the patient mix has been taken into account.
“One of the other things I would like you to comment on is the fact Hastings, at the last count I did, was 15 full time GPs short of the national average and how that impacts the walk in centre.
“We’ve got 25,000 patients in Hastings being treated beyond the national average of 1,742 patients per doctor.
“I’m sure that will continue to be taken into account when you are looking at the services in the walk-in centre.”
The trial of the primary care hub is expected to begin in December this year. The trial itself is not expected to last more than 16 months, although the CCG says it will be looking at commissioning a service with a specification based on its results.
The proposals come separately to plans to open an Urgent Treatment Centre at Conquest Hospital.