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NHS walk-in centres fail to assess patients properly

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.322.7278.70 (Published 13 January 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:70
  1. Judy Jones
  1. London

    Staff at NHS walk-in centres are failing to assess patients adequately, according to an undercover investigation carried out by the Consumers' Association. The Department of Health has spent more than £30m ($45m) on setting up 36 such centres around England, which patients can go to from early morning to late evening for free medical advice and for treatment without an appointment. Most are staffed by nurses, but some have GPs on site.

    To test the quality of service, the Consumers' Association sent undercover investigators posing as patients to eight centres to report for the association's magazine, Which? (January 2001:7-9). They said: “We were disturbed to find, on several occasions, staff failing to assess our patients, including one who was a potential emergency.”

    Staff at walk-in centres may treat minor injuries and illnesses, and they have to take a medical history from patients, as the patients' medical records will not be available to them. Staff are meant to write to a patient's GP, if the patient agrees, to ensure that medical records are kept up to date.

    Three Consumers' Association researchers, trained and experienced in acting as patients, made a total of 24 visits to eight centres. A panel of experts—three doctors and a professor of nursing—invented plausible scenarios for the actors to play out and then assessed the care that was given by centre staff. The Consumers' Association reported: “The level and quality of care varied greatly. There were glowing successes but, overall, the experts were disappointed with the standard and some treatment was even branded as potentially dangerous.”

    Wakefield was the centre that most impressed the experts, with Leigh and Parsons Green causing the most concern. The other centres tested were Peterborough, Stoke, Fulham, Sheffield, and Birmingham.

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