FORMER health secretary Andy Burnham has waded into the Worcester walk-in clinic saga - revealing he plans to complain to NHS England over proposals to close it.
The Labour big hitter, who served in Gordon Brown's Government and is now shadow health minister, said it "makes absolutely no sense" for the facility to be axed while pressures are so intense on A&E.
During a visit to Worcester's Whitehouse Hotel in Foregate Street, he belted out a passionate speech about "fighting for the NHS" and revealed 50 walk-in clinics around the country have been shut in recent months by cash-strapped health bosses.
As your Worcester News first revealed in March, the Farrier Street walk-in, which is used by 15,000 ad hoc patients a year, is expected to shut in August in a re-organisation.
The South Worcestershire Clinical Commissioning Group is looking at alternatives, which includes putting the extra funds into a new 'urgent care' facility at Worcestershire Royal Hospital instead.
It emerged yesterday that Councillor Joy Squires, Worcester's Labour parliamentary candidate, has now collected 800 signatures in her bid to get the move scrapped.
Mr Burnham, who was invited by Cllr Squires to address questions from an invited audience yesterday, said: "I come here with a very straightforward message to the NHS - it makes no sense at all to close the walk-in centre.
"At a time when A&E is under so much pressure it is absolutely essential to have alternatives, I just can't understand this proposal.
"Around 50 walk-ins have closed around the country, but the evidence is pretty clear around why they are so important.
"Everywhere I go, everybody I speak to says it's getting harder and harder to see a GP, all over the country they say 'I ring every day and they say I won't get an appointment for days'."
During the Q&A, he urged people to "fight for the NHS", saying if Labour came to power he would personally repeal the Health and Social Care Act, which is encouraging privatisation of certain aspects of care.
During a sit-down interview with your Worcester News afterwards, he also said he was going to raise the walk-in clinic's future with NHS England.
"I will object to this, I will tell NHS England this is the wrong thing to do," he said.
During the debate Cllr Squires said she found the proposal "astounding", and that she feared for those who use it, like students and the homeless.
Under the proposals the GP service, which has 4,400 registered patients, would remain open but the walk-in aspect of the site would shut.
A public consultation over it has now closed and the commissioning group says it is still looking at the options, but that closure of the walk-in would free up cash for GPs surgeries.
After the meeting the commissioning group released a statement defending its proposals.
Dr Carl Ellson, chief clinical lead, said: “As growing numbers of patients have chosen to register with the Walk-in Centre as their home practice, it has become increasingly difficult for patients to access the ‘walk-in’ element of the centre and they are instead being asked to make an appointment.
“We know that over the last 12 months around 84 per cent of people who used the ‘walk-in’ service were already registered either at the Walk-in Centre or with another Worcester City GP Practice.
"We also know that despite the Walk-in Centre being available, between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of people who do turn up at A&E could be treated by a GP.
“We’re proposing to re-allocate the money that is currently used to fund the ‘walk-in’ element of the centre to provide additional resources at the front door of our busy A&E department.
“We wish to set up a new Urgent Care Centre, where patients can be treated by an experienced nurse, GP or emergency doctor, without an appointment, for minor illnesses and injuries.
"Myself and other local GP colleagues who work with the CCG believe this will be a more effective use of NHS resources and will actually help to take the pressure off our busy A&E department.
“We’ve recently completed a nine week consultation on the proposed changes to local urgent care services, and are currently reviewing the responses before making a final decision.
“Our local countywide health scrutiny committee were pleased with the work that we have done on this, and commented that it was a model exercise for future engagement work.”