Walk-in capacity set to more than double under Darzi plans
By Lilian Anekwe
The NHS is set to dramatically ramp up the number of walk-in consultations offered to patients in a move that will transform delivery of primary care, Pulse can reveal.
A Pulse investigation reveals that PCTs plan to raise walk-in capacity by as much as two and a half times as they roll out Lord Darzi's network of GP-led health centres.
Among 26 PCTs who revealed details of their plans for the next five years, walk-in capacity was set to increase from 385,200 to 942,434 patient consultations a year.
If the increase holds true across all 152 PCTs, five and a half million walk-in consultations will be offered across primary care within five years.
A string of PCTs, including Knowsley, Somerset, Hammersmith & Fulham and Luton, are planning to raise their walk-in capacity by as much as five-fold.
Calderdale PCT will treble its capacity, and Suffolk PCT expects to increase its capacity by 671 patients a month – an eight-fold increase over three years.
Derbyshire County PCT is planning to double its spend in the sector from over £42,000 to more than £87,000 over five years, at an average cost of £12.48 per walk-in patient.
But the move look set to radically alter the traditional model of general practice and there are fears it could prove costlier in the long run - by driving up A&E attendance and duplicating care offered by general practice.
Experts have warned the shift could be detrimental to the continuity of care.
Professor Chris Ham, professor of health policy and management at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘There is a demand for better access in some sections of the population. It's right we try and address that need – but it needs to be done without being detrimental to the care provided.
‘Continuity of care may suffer if the walk-in capacity increases a lot over the coming years. Some patients – especially patients with chronic conditions and older patients – value continuity of care, and carer, very highly.'
Professor Roger Jones, professor of general practice at King's College London, said it was essential walk-in centres took proper records of each visit. ‘But taking records is time-consuming and I would be extremely concerned the current NHS IT is not robust enough.
‘For anything other than acute minor illness it would be disastrous. It needs to be piloted and evaluated.'
Dr David Colin-Thomé, the Government's primary care tsar, insisted continuity of care would not suffer from the introduction of GP-led health centres or the increase in walk-in capacity.
‘Preserving continuity of care does not prevent the NHS from offering other models of care, such as NHS walk-in centres and health centres - which are popular with the public and offer quick and easy access.'