By Gareth Iacobucci
A Darzi centre in Greater Manchester has become the first in the country to close its doors after NHS managers admitted it was an expensive luxury they could no longer afford.
NHS Stockport has decommissioned its 8am-8pm GP-led health centre after admitting it was duplicating existing services and haemorrhaging cash.
The landmark closure follows the BMA’s call for the centres – which former Labour health minister Lord Darzi insisted were rolled out in every PCT – to be closed in areas where they were failing to prove their worth.
A centre in Peterborough had looked set to become the first Darzi centre to close back in August, but has since been granted a reprieve following pressure from patients.
The Stockport centre, run by out-of-hours provider Mastercall, will continue to provide an out-of-hours service on evenings and weekends, but will stand empty during the day after the trust said the daytime service was no longer affordable. Its 320 registered patients have been transferred to neighbouring practices.
The move, which the PCT said would save £800,000 a year, came after figures showed three times as many people as expected were using the centre, but almost all as walk-in patients while also being registered with a local GP.
Managers had initially hoped the centre, which opened last October, would help reduce the numbers presenting at the local A&E for non-emergency treatment.
But the trust, which is striving to make £20m worth of efficiency savings this year alone, said the number of people attending A&E had actually jumped by around 5%, meaning costs had risen to ‘an unaffordable level’.
NHS Stockport chief executive Richard Popplewell said: ‘Most patients use the walk-in centre during the day when they could be seen by their own GP, creating a costly duplication of services.
‘In these financially challenging times, though we would like to offer this choice to patients, we cannot justify the amount we are spending on this overlap in provision.’
Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones, a GP in Stockport, said the move demonstrated that Lord Darzi’s policy was ‘ill-conceived’.
Dr Wynne-Jones said: ‘This was centrally driven, and the money should have stayed in mainstream general practice where it could have been spent more effectively on patient services.’
But Dr David Gilbert, chairman of Stockport LMC, said he was worried that the closure of the centre would lead to more patients attending A&E.
‘The worry is these patients will end up going to A&E departments with more precious resources siphoned off into secondary care.’
Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones