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Councillors criticise consultation on Sheffield NHS services

Northern General Hospital
Northern General Hospital

Sheffield councillors say they were “disappointed” at a consultation on plans to change the city’s NHS services - branding it a paper exercise.

Last week health bosses agreed to reconsider proposals to close the NHS Walk-in Centre on Broad Lane and Minor Injuries Unit at the Hallamshire Hospital.

The two units had been under threat after Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) proposed replacing them with a single Urgent Treatment Centre at Northern General Hospital.

However, after a lengthy consultation received thousands of objections and a 20,000 signature petition, health officials recommended a rethink.

Now it has emerged Sheffield councillors were unhappy with the consultation and had serious misgivings about the proposals.

They are outlined in a letter from Coun Pat Midgley, chairman of the Healthier Communities and Adult Social Care scrutiny committee, to Dr Tim Moorhead, chairman of NHS Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group.

Writing on behalf of the scrutiny committee, Coun Midgley says: “From the start of the consultation process, we were disappointed that the three options presented were very similar, all involving the closure of the Broad Lane Walk-in Centre and the Minor Injuries Unit.

“For many, this was frustrating, and gave the impression that the consultation was a paper exercise.

“We were also disappointed at the lack of early public engagement in drawing up the proposals for consultation. The public and statutory stakeholders were involved at a late stage and with limited opportunities to share their views.

“We feel that it’s really important that big changes to health services are done with people, not ‘to’ people – the overwhelmingly negative tone of the responses to the consultation suggest that on this occasion, the engagement process hasn’t been effective in bringing the public on board.

“We want to support and improve the NHS in Sheffield, and our aim has been to engage constructively with the CCG on these proposals. Overall however, we don’t feel that we have seen sufficient evidence to assure us that the proposals are in the best interests of Sheffield people.”

The committee said it had not been given any information about the financial side of the proposals, including how much money closing the Walk in Centre and Minor Injuries Unit would free up or how much it would cost to establish the UTC.

The scrutiny committee was particularly concerned about siting the UTC at the Northern General.

Coun Midgley said: “Concerns about access and capacity at the Northern General are well known. Parking is a long-standing problem, and air quality has been highlighted as an issue.

“It is expensive and difficult to access by public transport for those in the south of the city, including our significant student population – and for many in the city would require bus rides and a journey time of over an hour.

“The site is difficult to navigate once you are there, and councillors have heard concerns from people who feel unsafe in the areas surrounding the Northern General, particularly at night.

“We fear that this will deter people from seeking medical treatment at the appropriate time, which could lead to worse outcomes for patients, and higher costs for the health and social care system.

“We also have concerns that the impact of these proposals may cross over into other health service areas – for example, people in the south of the city may choose to use services outside of Sheffield rather than face a difficult journey to the Northern General.

“We were alarmed to see that senior managers at the Northern General raised concerns about their ability to accommodate the service. Overall, this leaves us unconvinced that siting a UTC at the Northern General is a viable proposal.”

Councillors also criticised plans to reorganise GP services saying there were no details about additional investment, how practices would work together to provide appointments or whether extra GPs, nurses and pharmacists could be recruited,.

They were concerned that closing the Walk-in Centre and Minor Injuries Unit would affect vulnerable people including those with mental illness, people with English as a second language, homeless people and students.

“We want to be sure that any changes to health services reduce health inequalities, not make them worse,” said Coun Midgley.