A Welwyn Hatfield councillor has highlighted daily queues that she says form every morning at the urgent care centre at the New QEII Hospital in Welwyn Garden City.

When it was launched, the walk-in centre – which deals with a range of minor illnesses and injuries – was open for 24 hours a day.

But since 2022 the centre has been closed overnight, between 10pm and 8am.

Labour councillor Lucy Musk says there are now queues outside the centre every morning.

On Thursday (October 12) she highlighted the situation to a meeting of Hertfordshire’s health scrutiny committee.

“Every single morning there are queues of people waiting to be seen by urgent care staff, because it is closed overnight – which is adding pressures to our other urgent care and emergency services,” said Cllr Musk, who represents the Haldens ward on Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council.

And while she said the centre did a "wonderful job", it was now "struggling" .

She said patients from across the county – unable to get GP appointments – were being referred to the centre at the weekends.

She suggested that Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield were bearing the brunt of a shortfall in urgent care.

Responding to the concerns at the meeting was Michael Watson, chief of staff for the Herts and West Essex Integrated Care Board.

He stressed that there had been improvements in urgent and emergency care across the Hertfordshire and West Essex system.

But he accepted it was "a really challenged operating environment" where there was "high demand".

He said was not able to answer why the opening hours are as they are, because he was not involved in the decision  at the time.

But – pointing to workforce and finances – he said there were challenges in increasing opening hours.

“As a system we are – like every other system in the country really struggling to deliver our financial plan for this year,  which is to end at a break even position,” he said.

“We do not have a great deal of capacity financially or operationally to increase services, including opening hours of services.

“And that is why we are having to come up with innovative system solutions in which we work in a better, more integrated way.”

Mr Watson had earlier highlighted a new approach to urgent and emergency care, where ambulances did not automatically take patients to accident and emergency.

Instead – as part of a pilot – he said the aim was for patients to be seen sooner by ‘the right healthcare provider’.

That included the use of ‘Hospital at Home’ – where care can be provided by doctors, nurses, therapists or pharmacists in a patient’s home.

He said the approach had saved hours of delays for ambulances and for patients, as well as reducing the pressure in emergency departments.

And he said it was an example of how integrated care could  come up with different solutions to tackle some of most challenging aspects of health and care.

Updating the committee more generally, Mr Watson said they were operating in an ‘extremely challenging’ environment.

Among those challenges he highlighted industrial action, rising inflation and the cost of living, as well as restoring services and tackling waiting lists following the covid pandemic.

He also alluded to Princess Alexander and Watford General hospitals that have been earmarked for redevelopment as part of the government’s New Hospital Programme.

“Two of our three acute hospitals in the system desperately need to be rebuilt- and I’m delighted that they will be.

“But we are still working with two thirds of our acute estate that is not fit for purpose for modern healthcare,

“And therefore that has all kinds of implications in terms of capacity and challenges around that.”