Councillors have vowed to fight to keep a Bedford walk-in health centre open following a review of local health services.
Bedfordshire NHS funders are extending the contract for the Putnoe Walk-In Centre, in Queens Drive, for one year until the end of September 2021, but councillors want a longer term commitment.
The NHS is carrying out a national review of access to health care because of booming demand for services. A meeting on Monday heard that local health service chiefs won’t be making any long-term decisions on the centre until after the review is concluded in the next few months.
“We can’t foresee as Liberal Democrats this service disappearing and we would like the CCG to consider to renew the contract more permanently as quickly as possible,” said Cllr Dean Crofts (Lib Dem, Kingsbrook), at Bedford Borough Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee
But Mike Thompson, the chief operating officer of the Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said the national review was considering how demand for health services would change in the future.
“The review is about future demand,” he said. “I know that the walk in centre is utilised well now. What that utilisation is in the future, given all the services that are around or coming into play, I don’t know what that is and that is the purpose of the review, which is to look at future demand and future need.”
The NHS is changing the way that GP services are structured, and introducing more services online, and over the phone, which may change how people use health services.
“To extend the walk-in centre beyond one year would require a full procurement,” Mr Thompson added. “At the moment we don’t want to go into a procurement until we’ve done the review, because that will shape what we will need for the future.”
Mr Thompson added that to make a longer term commitment might not be in the best interests of the people of Bedford. “It’s difficult to make an indefinite commitment because it would be the wrong thing to do without all the right evidence and information in front of us,” he added.
But councillors couldn’t see how use of the walk in centre could possibly fall.
Cllr Kay Burley (Lab, Kempston Central & East) said the walk in centre attracts people from a long way away to use it because they can’t get same-day appointments at their GP. “They just want to see a GP,” she said.
Cllr Lucy Bywater (Green, Castle) said: “I cannot imagine a scenario when people are going to say ‘yes, we are happy with you taking this primary care service out of the equation’, especially given the growing elderly population. It’s not going to happen, is it.”
Councillors agreed to discuss the issue again on December 9, when Mr Thompson is due to appear before the committee again.
After the meeting Cllr Crofts, his party’s health spokesman, said: “We will be campaigning as Liberal Democrats to keep the Putnoe Walk In Centre open. We want local decisions to be made locally based on local need and local demand.”