A doctors’ surgery in Brighton has been given a six-month contract extension before it closes, the Green Party said.
But “residents deserve answers” over the future of urgent care services, the party added.
The Greens said: “Proposals to close the Brighton Station Walk-in Centre in March have been put on hold for a further six months.
“A council report has revealed that the walk-in centre will be funded until September 2019 while commissioners of the service ‘will not implement any significant changes until public engagement is complete’.”
Green councillors and the party’s MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, said that they had raised concerns with health officials over proposals to replace at short notice the walk-in centre with some services in ‘GP clusters’.
The plans were described by Councillor Dick Page, the Green spokesman on the Brighton and Hove City Council Health and Wellbeing Board, as “vague and unrealistic”.
He said that questions from party members had revealed a serious underlying problem – that Brighton and Hove faced a low ratio of doctors to patients.
He said that there was one GP (general practitioner) to every 2,500 patients locally – a figure worse than other Sussex areas and now the second worst ratio anywhere in England.
The party also called for more information on the impact that closing the walk-in centre could have on already stretched A&E (accident and emergency) services at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.
About 400 patients a week were seen by clinicians at the walk-in centre which is open from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week, the Greens said.
And almost every single patient at the walk-in centre was seen within the government’s four-hour target compared with about seven in ten at the Royal Sussex.
The Greens said that there were currently six different ways a patient could access urgent “same day” care in Brighton and Hove, including 8am “ring up and be seen” appointments at GP practices.
However, most options were unavailable if someone is not registered with a GP.
Pointing to the increasing pressures facing local health services, the Greens urged health officials to produce a clear plan for the future of urgent – or same-day – care.
Councillor Page said: “Although news that the walk-in centre will remain open for a further six months is welcome, we still have serious concerns over the future of non-hospital urgent care.
“Proposals to replace the centre with GP clusters seem vague and unrealistic.
“Given the numbers of patients that are likely to be diverted from A&E by the provision of a walk-in centre, including those who are transient, who have not registered with a GP or who simply are not able to see their GP, any proposals to close it will need to be supported by a clear contingency plan – not just more talk of ‘integration’ or ‘hubs,’ which are often a smokescreen for local health services absorbing yet more cuts.
“There also needs to be a clear and specific public consultation, laying out the facts, finances and options – without any spin.”
The Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) presented its aims to the Health and Wellbeing Board. It said that it was looking at the lessons of integrated services in Manchester and Weymouth.
The CCG is also aiming to use hubs and clusters to enable the shrinking number of GP surgeries in Brighton and Hove to offer patients longer hours and a wider range of services.
The aim was to move from “firefighting” after several closures of family doctors to a more sustainable model where the pressure of rising patient demand is shared among a number of practices in collaboration with each other.
Although the walk-in centre is to close, Care UK, which runs the walk-in centre on behalf of the NHS, has opened a Practice Plus surgery in the Clock Tower branch of Boots, on the corner of North Street and Queen’s Road, Brighton.
A spokeswoman for Brighton and Hove CCG said: “The provider of the walk in centre at Brighton Station continues to offer health care for non-urgent medical conditions without an appointment for residents and visitors to the city on an ongoing basis, from 8am – 8pm, seven days a week (including bank holidays).
“As residents would expect, we look at options for how to improve same day and urgent medical treatment for patients in the city to help ease pressure on Emergency Departments and local GPs, but there are no plans in place.
“General Practice services across the city are facing the same pressures that are being reported from around England. As a statutory public body, we work within the current policy and framework set out by NHS England and will continue to do so to ensure patients receive on going high quality GP services.
“We have put extensive measures in place to support GPs in the city, including financial and educational support to help them run their surgeries more effectively and efficiently to free up doctors to provide more care for patients – one surgery saved the equivalent of seven weeks of consultation time per year through a change in repeat prescription process we identified.
“A key area of our plans to improve health and social care across the city is to make sure general practice is more sustainable, more resilient and works efficiently and effectively for many years ahead.
“This will include integrating some services, with other clinical specialists like pharmacists better supporting GPs, and helping GPs work more collaboratively together. There are also a number of specific scheme such as GP retention package as well as oversees recruitment that the CCG is implementing as part of its workforce strategy.”