Dear Dr Burke
I am writing on behalf of the staff and clients of St Petrock’s (Exeter) to highlight our concerns regarding the potential closure of the NHS Walk-In Centre on Sidwell Street. The WIC provides an invaluable service to many of our homeless and inadequately-housed clients, the loss of which could place the health of this highly vulnerable people-group at further risk.
Located in Cathedral yard, St Petrock’s centre is the first point of contact for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in the Exeter area. During 2014/15, there were 12,456 visits to our drop-in housing advice, referral and basic survival services (which include the provision of hot meals, showers, clothing and laundry facilities). A recent health audit found that, when they first came to St Petrock’s, 85% of our clients had pre-exisitng untreated conditions, including respiratory infections, leg ulcers, injuries and mental health issues, as well as diabetes and blood-borne viruses, Prompt treatment is often required to prevent these conditions escalating, with potentially dangerous consequences.
Many of the clients we see have newly arrived in Exeter or live transient lifestyles; others are coping with enduring mental health, addiction, social exclusion and family breakdown issues. All these factors, and the chaotic lifestyles to which they can lead, can make it difficult for them to access health services through standard routes. Research by national charity Crisis has found that homeless people are 40 times more likely not to be registered with a GP than the general public* – a statistic that is clearly borne out amongst the people we see. In this context, having a non-appointment based, seven days a week primary health care service in the city centre is a crucial resource in ensuring that adequate care is received.
Our experience in supporting vulnerable people also leads us to consider the potential closure of the WIC as a short-sighted move, which, in reducing access to treatment conditions before they reach crisis point, will increase pressure on services elsewhere. We have already seen a significant increase in the amount of emergency (ambulance) call-outs and A&E attendances required by our clients since the loss out outreach and reduction in services provided by the Clock Tower Surgery; we fear that the potential closure will exacerbate this trend.
Given the evident need for, and the effective role played by, this service, we urge the CCG to reconsider their decision and keep the Walk-In Centre open for the benefit of all.
*Crisis: Critical Condition