Local NHS commissioners should join forces with NHS England and involve patients when making decisions about the future of walk-in centres.
In the interests of patients, Monitor suggests that any proposal to close or change the provision of NHS walk-in centres should consider the impact on other local services such as urgent care, ambulance, hospital accident and emergency departments, and general practice surgeries.
Most of these services are effectively purchased by local clinical commissioning groups, but NHS England is directly responsible for commissioning family doctors.
There are 185 walk-in centres in England, established over the last decade to improve access to primary care and offer patients more choice. As commissioners prepare to review many of these contracts, Monitor suggests that joint decision-making would be in the best interests of patients in future.
Following on from its inquiry into walk-in centres last year, the sector regulator offers advice on best practice in decision-making, suggesting that commissioners should publish more information about how and when decisions are made locally.
They should also investigate what patients and community groups think before closing a service, such as conducting user surveys, sponsoring discussion forums and focus groups, and liaising with local Healthwatch representatives.
The advice is consistent with other NHS efforts to develop new models of care that are responsive to the needs of patients, including NHS England’s review of urgent and emergency care.
Catherine Davies, Executive Director for Co-operation and Competition, said:
We found that walk-in centres are most valued today where they were introduced following a careful assessment of local needs, located in an area of the community where the service could be conveniently accessed by those who need it, and procured using a sound process that resulted in value for money.
Our advice is designed to help commissioners make these services work better for patients, although ultimately what is best for patients will depend on local circumstances.