Shrewsbury health hub 'could create inequalities' but 'would provide best links'

More details have emerged over health chiefs' original transport aspirations for a controversial project to move six Shrewsbury GP practices into a "super hub".

An artist's impression of how the transport interchange could look
An artist's impression of how the transport interchange could look

An 88-page Shrewsbury Health and Wellbeing Hub project initiation document (PID) - which was drawn up in February 2021 but only made public shortly before an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday night - shows plans for a joint scheme of building the hub and rebuilding the Meole Brace park and ride to become the "Shrewsbury Connect" transport interchange.

NHS Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin Integrated Care System (ICS) is currently "reviewing additional options" for the hub, after delaying a consultation from this October to next spring. Chiefs said at a public meeting that alternatives to the hub including revamping and rebuilding current surgeries will be among those being looked at, so plans for transport - along with anything else affecting the hub - are "not a done deal".

But the document showed what the ICS had been considering. In it, the ICS accepted that it "could create health inequalities" for patients who do not have their own transport, but the body also claims the hub "would have the best possible public transport links covering the whole of Shrewsbury and surrounding areas".

Transport has been a major bone of contention in this project, with patients from the six surgeries involved expressing worries about how they would make their way to the hub if their local surgeries closed down and moved.

Protesters outside Tuesday's meeting in Shresbury

Little detail was shared by NHS Shropshire Telford and Wrekin ICS at the public meeting, however more on its initial aspirations were included in the document.

It said: "Discussions have taken place with Shropshire Council regarding the potential for a joint development project to be delivered on the Meole Brace Park and Ride site. This project would see the existing site being redeveloped to deliver the Cavell Centre (the health hub) and a new Transport Interchange which would form part of the Shrewsbury Connect network.

"Accessible, efficient and sustainable multi-modal transport hubs play a key role in creating a gateway for towns and cities to thrive and allowing local areas and businesses to fully achieve their potential. Easily accessible, safe transport infrastructure can help passengers to carry out their journeys quickly and efficiently. This can be coupled with an integrated approach to service infrastructure which provides the public with highly connected services such as healthcare.

"This innovative approach would see the future deployment of electric vehicles operating from the transport interchange creating a sustainable transport link across the whole of Shrewsbury which would have healthcare at the heart of it."

It was also hoped the site could also have retail facilities including a cafe or restaurant to try to bring in more money.

"There are likely to be concerns from patients that they will have to travel further to see their GP," the document also says.

The project team has recognised that there will be a need for detailed engagement and consultation with regard to concerns that patients may have over extended travelling distances. Where people do not have their own transport this could be an issue and potentially create health inequalities. It is therefore important that transport systems are considered in order to prevent this from occurring and the integration of the two projects would provide the Cavell Centre with the best possible transport links."

Around 200 people - including protestors against the plans - were in attendance at the meeting on Tuesday evening at St Chad's Church.

Councillor Kate Halliday, chair of a Shrewsbury Town Council cross-party working group set up to scrutinise the plans, said councillors had been "inundated" with emails from people concerned about the proposal. She read out several questions from members of the public asking specifically about the issue of transport.

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