Monitor has launched an inquiry into the closure of several Darzi walk-in centres and whether it has had an adverse impact on patient choice or impacted on the rising pressure on A&E departments.
The health regulator says it will investigate the closure of the walk-in centres that were introduced by the previous Labour government, with reports suggesting as many as 40 walk-in centres have closed or plan to close in the past three years.
Pulse revealed in 2011 that PCTs were paying undisclosed sums in compensation to close the Darzi centres in response to ‘low demand’.
Monitor says it wants to determine why the closures are happening and whether it has prevented patients from accessing either routine or urgent care without an appointment.
Private companies, who run many of the services, have complained the rate of closure has accelerated since the beginning of the year.
Catherine Davies, executive director of co-operation and competition at Monitor, said: ‘It is in the interests of patients to find out why walk-in centres are closing and whether the closures are affecting patient choice and competition.
‘Walk-in centres are very popular with patients and the potential impact of such closures at a local and national level needs to be better understood.’
NHS Partners Network chief executive David Worskett – which represents private providers in the NHS – welcomed the review.
He said: ‘This is something we have been calling for since the start of this year. We have become increasingly concerned that in some areas, walk-in centres are being closed or are under threat of closure even though they may be providing valuable access to primary care at times of day, or for groups of people, for whom the much more restricted opening times of conventional GP practices are too inflexible.’