Unanimous vote to close overnight service at Welwyn Garden City Urgent Care Centre
- Credit: Alan Davies
Welwyn Garden City’s Urgent Care Centre (UCC) is to close overnight.
The decision follows a vote from the governing body of East and North Hertfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group.
The main reason cited for the ending of the service is due to low numbers of patients using it at night for a number of years - and its consistent decline alongside an increasing local population suggested that people are using the alternative sources of help.
The new closing time will be 10pm, patients already in the UCC being treated, or waiting to be treated, at 10pm would continue to be cared for appropriately. The UCC will re-open at 8am every morning.
The date from which the UCC will close overnight is yet to be agreed but will publicised widely throughout the local area.
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Plans will be put in place to mitigate any risk of members of the public arriving at the UCC overnight seeking treatment for minor injuries and illnesses after the unit is closed.
In making their unanimous decision, the Governing Body noted that:
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- on average, less than one person per hour visits the UCC between 10pm and 8am
- the UCC has to be staffed by at least two highly skilled nurses at all times, for safety reasons
- these staff could be better used to care for more of the area’s seriously unwell patients at the area’s Emergency Department, at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage
- a wide range of alternative sources of health help and support are available overnight locally to people with an urgent need, including overnight GP appointments and mental health help. These services have been invested in and expanded in recent years.
- The proposal to close the Urgent Care Centre overnight was put to the public during an extensive 12 week public engagement campaign in 2019. Residents and stakeholders were invited to discuss the CCG’s proposals at numerous drop-in sessions and public meetings across the area, with paper and online questionnaires distributed and promoted widely.
Following this, the governing body voted to suspend their decision until spring 2020, to find out whether a campaign to raise awareness of the UCC and other out-of-hours services made a difference to the number of overnight visitors. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic caused the decision to be postponed until this week.
Dr Prag Moodley, chair of the CCG and a Hertfordshire GP, said: “The information we have about the UCC shows that it is very regularly and consistently used throughout the day, but that overnight, very few people use its services.
"This means that the highly experienced nursing staff working there don’t have enough patients to treat, and could instead support their very busy colleagues at the Lister. Use of the UCC overnight has been steadily declining for a number of years, as the range of alternative sources of help have increased.
“We want to make sure that all our patients in need have access to excellent urgent care services, with NHS 111 as the gateway to the right care, first time. Following an assessment by NHS 111 on the phone or online, if you need a doctor’s appointment at night or over the weekend, an appointment will be made for you to see a GP at a clinical base near you, including the one in Welwyn Garden City.
"Residents who are not well enough to travel, but do not need to go to hospital, can be visited at home by the out-of-hours GP service.
“The NHS 111 service can also put patients in contact with a pharmacist or palliative care expert based in the contact centre for a telephone consultation and can book appointments in the Lister Emergency Department, with an emergency dentist or at a patients’ own GP practice. Mental health help is also available by calling 111 and selecting the mental health option.”
Following this decision, East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust (ENHT), the organisation that runs the UCC, will undertake appropriate consultation with affected staff prior to any change in rotas.
Labour councillor Max Holloway, who protested against the closure when plans were first announced, said: “I know this will come as a blow to many residents, but it certainly won’t come as a surprise. When you look at the NHS it’s the same old story. Under the Conservatives it gets carved up, closed down and sold off – all while they pretend to care.
"I don’t think anyone would object to the temporary suspension of overnight services at the Urgent Care Centre during the pandemic, however it’s an act of incredible bad faith to use the fact that no one-complained about the temporary suspension during this time as a reason to push ahead.
"Thank you to everyone who joined our campaign to try and stop this from happening.”
Rosie Newbigging, former parliamentary candidate for Labour in Welwyn Hatfield said: “The closure of the overnight service at the UCC marks a further decimation of essential NHS provision.
"Local people fought hard to stop the closure of the service two years ago when we won a temporary reprieve. The past 16 months have been far from normal and this is a deeply flawed decision flying in the face of local opinion.
"The people of Welwyn Hatfield deserve better.”