The Bitterne Walk-in Centre was opened in 2003 and since then has served the East of the city and the constituents I represent very well.
In 2011, after a consultation, the operating hours were reduced as a compromise, following a cross party campaign to keep this much loved and much used facility open.
Last year the Southampton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) announced a temporary closure, which was to last for six months. This closure would have been followed by a three month period to assess if the temporary closure was a success. Most people, including myself, believed that once the service was removed for nine months it would be very unlikely to re-open.
Another cross party campaign saved the walk-in service again but it was only a temporary reprieve. The CCG are now consulting on its closure once more.
It has to be said, there is no conspiracy. The CCG believe the money could be better spent on District Nursing. With so many more elderly people living in their own homes for longer with complex medical conditions such as dementia, there is growing need for more community care.
However, it would appear that residents living on the East of the city are to lose their facilities to pay for it and that is not fair, in my opinion. If the Southampton CCG need more community nursing then it would be more equitable to share the burden for that improved service across the city and not just on our side.
The argument that people living on the East can access the Minor Injuries Unit at the Royal South Hants and Accident and Emergency at the General doesn’t make it an easier pill to swallow. For those with no transport or without the means to pay for parking at the major hospitals, the CCG has disadvantaged them disproportionately. This proposal means the CCG will make their savings at the expense of some of those who can least afford it.
I campaigned to keep the Bitterne Walk-in Centre open in 2010/11, again last year and I am committed to maintaining its future this time.
I think there are ways the CCG can make savings for community nursing while maintaining a facility at the Bitterne Health Centre. For example, currently the CCG pay Solent Health for back office functions and premises and these charges are enormous and simply cannot be justified.
Twenty per cent of users are from Eastleigh (we know this from the addresses of patients) and the Eastleigh CCG should pay for these patients or they should not be allowed to use the facility. Southampton should not be subsidising a neighbouring health authority at the expense of our own people.
If every other option had been exhausted perhaps we would be having a different conversation but currently no work appears to have been done on back office and support charges or dealing with Eastleigh CCG’s patients.
In the General Election campaign I made a clear commitment to fight the closure of our Walk-in Centre and to campaign for enhanced health care facilities on our side of the city. That is what I intend to do.