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Friday, 16 July, 1999, 22:49 GMT 23:49 UK
'Walk-in centres could be a danger'
GP consultation
GPs fear the clinics will undermine their relationship with patients
The first no-appointment drop-in GP medical centres have been named by the government, despite a health warning from patients' groups.

Health Secretary Frank Dobson announced hundreds more new NHS projects, including the location of 19 new walk-in clinics.

These will be placed in High Streets, shopping centres and railway stations around the country.

But patient groups, while welcoming the convenience walk-in centres will offer, say that they could pose a danger to patients because of poor communication between doctors.

Family doctors need to know details of all medication a patient may be taking to safely treat them, says the Patients' Association.

Mike Stone, its general manager, said: "One of our main concerns is patient records. If you go to see a doctor in a walk-in place in Burnley, but you live in Sunderland, there has got to be some way that this information could be transferred.

"In some circumstances there could be a danger to patients."

Mr Dobson, announcing the centres, said: "These centres will offer a service to the public, when the public need it and where the public need it.

"It may relieve pressure on GPs but it's intended as an additional service.

"People will generally want to go to their GP who they know, but we are offering this service in 19 areas where the GPs have asked for it."

The government said that GPs based around the proposed centres had all given their blessing to the project.

The idea behind the plan is to stop people bothering doctors at casualty departments with relatively minor ailments.

Private partnerships

Some of the centres will be run in partnership with private companies like Sainsbury's and Boots.

They will enable people to see a doctor or nurse without an appointment, although the fee for doing so has not yet been fixed.

Private firms like Medicentre offer on-the-spot consultations
The demand for more flexible access to doctor's surgery clearly exists - a private healthcare firm has already taken advantage with walk-in centres at major railway stations where patients can pay a fee and get an on-the-spot consultation.

However, at its annual conference last week the BMA urged the government to slow down the pace of reform, and expressed concern about the introduction of new NHS walk-in clinics.

Incomplete records

The BMA fears they could undermine the position of family doctors and their relationship with their patients.
Dr Ian Bogle has warned of the dangers of walk-in clinics
It also believes that the clinics could also increase demands on other parts of the service.

Representatives called on the government to fully evaluate the ideas before pressing ahead.

At this month's annual conference, BMA chairman Dr Ian Bogle said: "Walk-in clinics may pander to public demand for 24-hour access to the NHS. But will they relieve pressure on an understaffed and under-resourced service?

BMA GP's Committee Chairman Dr John Chisholm told the BBC: "This will shift investment of money from the urgent and serious to the relatively trivial."

But Richard Higgins, the chief executive of Parkside NHS Trust in London, which has won money to set up a walk-in centre, disagreed.

He said: "The NHS has always had a lot of priorities, and the priority that local people spoke to us about was having somewhere to go in an emergency for treatment for ailments and injuries.

"The resources are additional to this area, so we are not diverting any away from our local NHS."

NHS manager Richard Higgins says the public wants the service
The government believes that plans to link the entire health service with a secure computer network would eventually allow GPs at walk-in centres to both access and update medical records electronically.

Mr Dobson, in a speech in Solihull, has pledged to raise the pace of NHS reform rather than slow it down in response to BMA fears.

The walk-in centres will be set up in the following locations:

  • A site in London's West End
  • A shop-front site in Bath, close to the railway and bus station
  • A Boots shop in New Street, Birmingham
  • A city centre shop in Exeter
  • The Old Swan shopping centre in Liverpool
  • Terminal 1 of Manchester Airport
  • Next to the railway and bus stations in Swindon, Wilts
  • Sainsbury's supermarket in Dussindale, Norwich
  • The High Street in Peterborough
  • The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel
  • The Edgware Community Hospital, north London
  • Parsons Green Health Centre, west London
  • Charing Cross Hospital, Fulham, west London
  • St George's Hospital, Tooting, south London
  • Newcastle General Hospital
  • Sheffield Hallamshire Hospital
  • Haywood Hospital, Stoke-on-Trent
  • A health centre by The Ridings Shopping Centre, Wakefield, West Yorks
  • York City Centre

Another 20 centres will be announced in the Autumn if the first wave is successful, says the government.

BBC News' Richard Hannaford: BMA unhappy at acceleration of change in the NHS
BBC News' Karen Allen hears the arguments for and against the new centres
Richard Hannaford: Clinics will be set up in supermarkets and train stations
Health correpsondent Fergus Walsh: "Supermarkets could provide healthcare to match our hectic, modern lifestyles"
See also:

17 Mar 99 | Health
100m package for modern NHS
13 Apr 99 | Health
PM backs high street healthcare
08 Jul 99 | Health
Waiting list policy under fire
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