The sudden closure of a walk-in health centre has left Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Justin Madders, Labour’s shadow health minister, furious.

The centre, at Eastham Rake, Eastham only 15 minutes from Ellesmere Port, closed on Monday (September 4).

It treated patients 365 days a year and was dedicated to giving people the best service according to its web site.

The closure is said to be needed to enable staff to be moved to help Arrowe Park Hospital’s A&E department which is taking too long to treat patients.

NHS standards say 95% of patients arriving at an A&E must be seen, treated and either discharged or admitted to hospital within four hours.

'Consistent challenge'

But Wirral Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) says this has been a ‘consistent challenge’ at Arrowe Park and there has been no sustained improvement.

A letter from the CCG’s chief officer Simon Banks explaining the decision, seen by the Pioneer’s sister paper the ECHO, said: “As you will be aware there is an NHS constitutional standard by which a minimum of 95% of patients arriving ar an accident and emergency department must be seen, treated and either discharged or admitted to hospital within four hours.

“This has proven to be a consistent challenge in Wirral and the emergency department at Arrowe Park Hospital has not met this constitutional standard for some time and despite the best efforts of staff we are not seeing any sustained improvement.

“As a result of this we have concerns about patient safety due to the continued pressures being experienced within the emergency department.”

A new ‘front door clinical streaming’ service at Arrowe Park A&E will see patients assessed on arrival and those with minor injuries or illnesses directed to the adjacent walk-in centre.

These patients will be seen and treated by either a GP or a senior nurse.

Walk-in centre activity

The CCG said the service would be available 24 hours a day and would ensure people with serious or life-threatening illnesses are treated more quickly in A&E.

The letter argued the walk-in service at Eastham accounted for ‘less than 20% of all walk-in centre activity in Wirral’ and added: ‘A decision of this nature would normally require a degree of engagement and consultation’ but said the closure was being implemented immediately to ensure services were ‘safe and effective’.

Dr Paula Cowan, medical director of the CCG and an Eastham GP, said: “It’s really important that the CCG looks at what resources it has available to ensure that we can meet the needs of people in Wirral.

“We have been experiencing increased demand for emergency services at Arrowe Park Hospital and increasing the staff at the Arrowe Park walk in centre will help manage the ongoing pressure on clinical services.

“We recognise that this decision will have an impact on the local community in Eastham.

“However we feel that this decision ensures that we are putting our most appropriately qualified clinical staff in the place where they can help keep our local health services safe and effective.”

Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Justin Madders (Lab) speaking in the House of Commons
Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Justin Madders (Lab) speaking in the House of Commons

A less than impressed Mr Madders said: “This decision has to be one of the worst, most ill thought out decisions that I have ever come across and it is being forced on our community without any warning or discussion.

“Whilst the service is primarily for Wirral residents it is also bad news for my constituents, many of whom have come to rely on this centre as they are unable to get to Arrowe Park or the Countess of Chester.

“Patients have a right to be consulted on major changes to their services so it is appalling that this decision is being made at such short notice and apparently without any consultation.

Effect on Countess

“In the short-term I am concerned that people with medical problems will still be turning up at this centre after it closes as a few days’ notice is simply not sufficient for the message to reach everyone.”

He continued: “Moving forward I can foresee a serious knock on to the A&E waiting times at the Countess which are well below the national targets and also our already over-stretched GP service.

“Closing the walk-in centre is the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it will simply push patients and the pressure on services elsewhere.

“The blame for this decision falls squarely at the door of the Conservative Government who have chronically underfunded our health services for seven years. A popular well used service like this being shut shows just how desperate things have become under them.

“I am asking the CCG to think again and to join with us to campaign for properly funded services,”