The 'urgent care centres' that don't even have any doctors: Survey of clinics replacing closed A&Es reveals staff who can't prescribe drugs - and sometimes aren't there at all

  • Probe says centres may be increasing burden on casualty units
  • Some found to be little more than glorified GP surgeries

Patients are at risk in the Government’s new Urgent Care Centres because they are understaffed and offer only limited emergency cover, a damning report has found.

The shocking truth about the centres – which are replacing many A&E units – is revealed in a nationwide review that raises concerns about the ability of the clinics to spot serious conditions and treat even minor injuries.

The report has found that:

  • Some centres are so badly staffed that there are often no qualified doctors on duty.
  • Some of the staff have so few qualifications that they are unable to prescribe key drugs.
  • Patients wait in long queues before consultations and there is often ‘no sense of urgency’.
Needing treatment: A man goes into a new Urgent Care Centre in London. A probe has found some of the clinics, earmarked to replace doomed A&Es, are understaffed

Needing treatment: A man goes into a new Urgent Care Centre in London. A probe has found some of the clinics, earmarked to replace doomed A&Es;, are understaffed


The report, produced by the respected Primary Care Foundation, which advises the Government, is highly embarrassing because health officials are keen to roll out the  clinics in order to free up space in over-crowded casualty units. In many hospitals, an Urgent Care Centre (UCC) acts as the first port of call for patients, who are then referred to the A&E next door if necessary.

But the report says there is little evidence that the new centres are reducing the number of patients who attend A&Es – and may even be increasing the burden on the NHS.

There is also a new drive to use UCCs as replacements for A&E departments altogether.

Doctors and campaigners have opposed this move, because it means the most seriously ill patients will have to travel further for treatment and they fear the new centres could fail to spot urgent conditions because they do not use specialists.

The Mail on Sunday has already revealed that the UCCs are unable to treat a range of serious medical conditions including heart  attacks and strokes, even though they will be the nearest emergency care department for millions of  people in England as their local A&Es close.

In London, five major A&Es have been downgraded to become UCCs staffed by GPs and nurses but with no emergency care consultants.

The Primary Care Foundation report, written by GPs, NHS managers and consultants, examined 15 undisclosed UCCs across England.

It said: ‘The availability of particular types of service often varied by time of day. Sometimes, this was planned (so X-ray facilities might be available for only part of the opening hours, or GPs might be available for part of the time only).

‘This variability increases the  risk that a patient may attend for a  condition that cannot be treated by the service, increasing delay and clinical risk.’

Some UCCs offered a full range  of services and skilled staff that  was nearly the same as a fully functioning A&E. But others were little more than walk-in centres that could treat only the simplest cases seen in GP surgeries. Some centres offered ‘nurse only’ services with no doctors on duty, which meant that the type of patient who could be seen and treated depended on the qualifications of the nurse on duty.

The report concluded UCCs should be able to treat or refer all patients who attended and that there should be no unnecessary delay.

It has called on NHS chiefs to ‘make sure that the advertised services are available consistently over time and not subject to variation depending on who is on duty’ in order to protect patients.

Shadow Health Minister Jamie Reed said: ‘It is dangerous for A&Es and Urgent Care Centres to run without enough qualified staff.’

Local GPs in Ealing, West London, have expressed their concerns about the UCC that already exists at Ealing Hospital. In a recent anonymous survey, one said: ‘I don’t think an Urgent Care Centre without emergency on-site backup is somewhere I would want my family or my patients to go to.’

A Department of Health spokesman admitted there were concerns and said: ‘We are working with the NHS to try to improve the way we organise urgent and emergency care services in the future, including making sure they are sufficiently staffed.’