CONCERNS over a long-awaited health centre have swirled for half a decade, but the GP in charge is hoping to have the building built and running by next year - despite it not even being approved yet.

After years of delays, to the surprise of residents, the GP leading the project now says the centre could be ready by the end of next year. Horwich Health and Wellbeing Hub was announced in 2015 as an ‘innovative, flagship project’, planning to unite Bolton Community Practice, Pike View GP Practice and Kildonan House Practice under one roof. The NHS granted the plans preliminary funding to the tune of £6.8 million in 2016, with the GP practices also committing to contribute towards the centre.

Since then, the project has been mired in difficulties. Proposals for the Victoria Road centre were sent back to the drawing board after Kildonan House pulled out in 2018 — the millions in funding had to be shelved. New designs for a two-practice hub were drawn up, along with a new cost plan in a bid to secure NHS funding again. But there are many hurdles yet to jump. The doctors will need to have their outline case approved to progress, with a decision expected from Bolton Strategic Estates by the end of the month.

The plans will then have to go to Bolton Council’s planning committee for the green light on building on the land. In October, planners working on the project, Turner and Townsend, said an application would have gone in by Christmas — this is yet to happen.

After planning approval is given, a full business case will be put to NHS England, where it will be decided if the finalised project is going to be funded.

Despite the obstacles, the GP leading the project is planning to move into the building in December, 2021.

Dr Talbot, the clinical director of Bolton Community Practice, said: “We have had to backtrack, get a new set of designs and we have had to get a new cost plan. That takes a number of months and we have done that.

“Planning will be the next key stage. As far as the actual business case, we do not think there is a huge amount of work to get from outline business case to full business case. Should the full business case be approved, we would hope then that there will be a whole tendering process around the construction and the development. We would hope then that we would be able to be in the premises by December 2021.”

The GP says she arrived at the ambitious date after following a ‘standard project management plan’: “We have followed a very clear project management schedule with timelines that we recognise for being able to put a full business case together, go through the planning process and then go through the procurement and then construction.”

But the GP emphasised that the final result is still out of the hands of the two practices.

Dr Talbot said: “We are not the money holders, we do not hold the budget, nor are we the decision makers. We are putting the case together to say Horwich utterly, desperately needs a new health centre that is fit for purpose for the 21st century and has all the enhancements that you would expect to see in a modern practice.

“Those who are patients at Market Surgery and Pike View will know that access is abysmal in both of those premises.

“Bolton Community Practice has stairs which are not fit for purpose. We have to have a whole mitigation plan around what patients we can see because babies cannot go up the stairs, the elderly can’t go up the stairs, if you are visually impaired you can’t go up the stairs.

“The buildings have not been suitable for a long time.”

The team are hopeful that they will move forward at the end of the month. Dr Talbot said: “Should we get the outline business case be approved, we would be hoping to go to planning in April. Then we will be hoping to get a full business case approved by the summer. We have worked for five years to get to this point. We have done our absolute utmost to make sure that the business case is as solid as we can make it, so we are very hopeful.”