Healthcare bosses in Sheffield have warned that 'change is needed' as they begin to look at the thousands of submissions they received in response to a consultation on the future of urgent care services in the city.
Last September, Sheffield CCG announced plans to close the minor injuries unit at the Hallamshire and the walk-in centre on Broad Lane, along with other changes to urgent GP appointments and eye care.
At the time, CCG chiefs said the changes were necessary to 'take the pressure' of accident and emergency services and reduce patient 'confusion'.
But the plans were criticised by health service campaigners who said the changes would mean more travelling for patients and their relatives and increased pressure on services elsewhere.
Maddy Ruff, accountable officer at NHS Sheffield CCG, said: "As we said at the start of the consultation, the current system is facing challenges that we cannot ignore and we are going to have to do things differently to make sure people in Sheffield can continue to get the care they need. If we don’t face up to this challenge, the system will fail.
“Our GP services are under huge pressure with increasing demand, more complex conditions and shortages of GPs and nurses. Our A&E services our also under huge pressure, and we know that there are people going to A&E who could be treated more appropriately in primary care. And while we’ve seen clearly in the feedback that people value the current services, people are also telling us that the system does not work well and that they are not always able to get a GP appointment when they need one.
“We are still absolutely committed to improving GP access across the city and supporting our practices to manage the increasing pressure they are under. We need to ensure people get to the service they need first time and have appointments in 24 hours when they need them.
“The proposals we developed were based on removing duplication and freeing up resources to improve access to primary care so we need to think about the best way of doing this taking account of the issues raised.
“This is a long process but it’s vitally important we make sure we find the right system for our city and one which works for all our communities.”
The CCG say they are currently working with clinicians, partners and a 'public reference group' to see if they can overcome the issues raised in the consultation feedback and if any of the alternative suggestions are viable.
If agreed, a shortlist to be presented to the CCG in June will be developed and tested so that a final recommendation can be published by late autumn.
Welcoming the CCG's comments, Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh said: “These are encouraging words from the CCG and I hope they do take seriously the concerns of over 1,000 constituents who signed my petition opposing service closures at Royal Hallamshire and Broad Lane.
“It’s just not viable for people in places like Greenhill and Lowedges to have to make a two hour round trip to visit the Minor Injuries Unit, and analysis we’ve had for the usage of the Walk-In centre shows it’s most used by people in some of the most deprived areas of the city.
“It’s time for a thorough rethink of these plans, so that we can make urgent care services sustainable while making sure they’re accessible for everyone in our city when they’re needed.”
And Alison Brown of Sheffield Save Our NHS, who today protested outside the CCG's Prince of Wales Road offices, said: "We are pleased that they are considering a broader range of options and they have recognised that the closure of services in the city is unpopular. We will have to see what they come up with in the next stage of the process."