An urgent treatment centre is to have its opening hours officially reduced.

The centre, at Hemel Hempstead Hospital, was launched to offer a 24-hour service to residents.

But since December 2016 the GP-led centre has been closed between 10pm and 8am, because of overnight staffing shortages.

Today (Thurs 10 May) Board members of the Herts Valleys CCG agreed to officially reduce the opening hours, to 8am to 10pm.

In backing the proposals the Board looked at data that showed low usage of the Centre between midnight and 8am, collected when it was open around the clock.

But they focussed on the difficulty in finding GPs to work there through the night, when – in addition to their own practice commitments – GPs were already being asked work shifts in the out-of-hours service, the minor injuries unit in St Albans and in the NHS 111 service.

The report to the Board – which acknowledged the strength of support for 24-hour opening – states: “All those services get their supply of GPs from the same source: the local doctors working in surgeries across our patch.

“There is not a separate group of GPs who are available just to cover the out-of-hours and night-time shifts and we would need to be sure that opening the UTC overnight would not compromise the ability of GPs to staff busy practices during the day.”

St Albans GP Richard Pile said the decision was an issue of patient safety and capacity and that the worst option would be for the Centre to revert to 24 hour opening, but have to close at short notice.

“The last thing we want to do is for patients to turn up to the service and find that it’s shut – which there is a risk of,” he said.

Dr Pile said there were increasing demands on GPs, when more GPs were working part-time and fewer GPs were willing to take on out-of-hours shifts.

And he questioned where GPs would be found to fill shifts at the Centre if it were to revert to 24-hour opening.

“We are not fulfilling our responsibilities as commissioners or GPs if we commit to something that is unworkable,” he said.

The CCG recognised support for 24-hour opening but said that during consultation almost half of respondents had expressed at least some support for a service running for just 14 or 16 hours a day.

They also pointed to data (collected between 2015 and 2017) that showed, on average, just seven people attended the Centre between midnight and 8am and four between 10pm and midnight.

And they highlighted the availability of NHS111 and the out-of-hours service for those needing to speak to or see a GP when surgeries were closed.

As part of the same proposals the Board also signalled that walk-in services currently offered by the nearby West Hertfordshire Medical Centre would be merged with the Urgent Treatment Centre.

This move, they said, would steamline and simplify patient services, make better use of available GPs and offer the benefit of the enhanced services at the Treatment Centre.

As a result the CCG Board also decided the contract for the nearby West Hertfordshire Medical Centre – which has just 2400 registered patients – should not be renewed.

The CCG Board said they would establish a central GP extended access ‘hub’ at the site. And, they said, existing local practices will be invited to bid to open a branch surgery there too.