THE number of people visiting Hexham General Hospital’s overnight urgent care centre dropped drastically during a period of uncertainty with the service, it has been revealed.

The centre was closed between the hours of 10pm and 8am in July last year – following a similar closure the year before – due to staffing pressures.

Although it reopened in October for three weeks, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust closed it again on November 2.

Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request to the trust showed that during the three weeks it reopened in October 2018, only eight people accessed the centre.

On the same dates – between October 10 and October 31 – in 2017, 29 people used the service.

It was revealed following the announcement it would reopen that, rather than being able to walk in, patients would instead have to contact NHS 111 to speak to a trained advisor before accessing it.

“We acknowledge that temporarily reopening the overnight service in October last year with access via NHS 111 was confusing to the public and, as a result, undoubtedly impacted attendance figures,” a spokeswoman said.

When it closed in November Northumbria Healthcare said it would affect “a small number of people” as, on average, fewer than two people attended overnight.

The Freedom of Information showed that between January and June, when it was fully operational, an average of 2.94 people used the service each night.

Now the trust has said that due to severe staffing pressures, it is still not in a position to reopen the centre. The spokeswoman added: “Our discussions with NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group regarding the options for this service moving forward continue and we will update the public as soon as we are able to.”

Timeline of changes at Hexham General Hospital’s urgent care centre:

December 2016 - Opening times were slashed from 24 hours a day to 8am until midnight.

October 2017 - Following a spirited campaign it re-opened on October 30.

July 2018 - It was announced the centre would close for at least four weeks between the hours of 10pm and 8am.

October 2018 - A 24-hour service was resumed on October 10, but patients were asked to call NHS 111 first.

November - From November 2 the overnight service was suspended again, this time for an ‘indeterminate’ period.