Don’t walk out on the Walk-In Centre

At my age, it always seems tempting fate to say that you enjoy good health, because you feel that you’re bound to get diagnosed with something awful the following week. However, I am very lucky – since my children have grown up, I have barely been inside my GP’s surgery other than for routine check-ups or holiday vaccinations.

Having said that, there is one part of the local primary care system that I have frequented: our Walk-in Centre. As its name suggests, you don’t need an appointment and it is open all day, in the evenings and at weekends. So, on the odd occasion (for example, if I know that I probably need a course of antibiotics) I just pop in and get the problem sorted, at a time I can fit round work commitments and without bothering my overworked GP.

What a great system – convenient for patients and cheap because it’s run by nurses. I wish the Walk-in Centre had been operating when my children were small, or my elderly parents were still alive, for the sorts of situations when I knew they were not really poorly enough to justify an urgent GP appointment and I just needed some timely, face-to-face, expert advice.

So why on earth are they planning to change the Walk-in Centre, so that it’s now only going to be open at weekends? How can the Centre not be cost-effective? Have they really looked at all the options? How can it be more economical to use GPs than nurses? Has anybody modelled this system? In particular, has anyone done any what-if simulations looking at predicted use of the Walk-in Centre in the light of future population change?

Sally Brailsford is Professor of Management Science, School of Management, University of Southampton

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