An investigation into the policy of independently-run commuter walk-in centres by researchers has Sheffield has found that the scheme is thus far proving to be expensive and underused.

Under the wider aim of providing better access to primary care and expanding GP services, six walk-in GP centres, run by private providers for the National Health Service, were opened in or close to railway stations under a pilot scheme in 2005 to 2007, at a cost of £50 million, according to media reports.

The idea is to offer commuters who might struggle to see their own GPs convenient access to a doctor from 7am-7pm, but the researchers found that the average number of patients visiting the centres was just 33 to 101 per day, which, they say, is “considerably lower than the planned capacity of 150-180”, and shows that the scheme is currently failing to reach its full potential.

In addition, the estimated cost per attendance, albeit based on limited activity and price data, was found to be between £52 and £150 for different centres, with some, according to Management in Practice, costing twice as much as other surgeries, which suggests they are failing to provide the NHS with value for money.

On the plus side, a separate study, also published in the British Journal of General Practice found that users had a high level of satisfaction with the service provided by these walk-in surgeries, with 69% saying they were “very satisfied”, and levels of satisfaction dipped for certain specific aspects of care such as waiting times, the researchers noted.