A HEALTH centre which is like a paid-for accident and emergency has been set up in Harrow - and its bosses claim it is the first in the country.
BMI Healthcare, which provides private hospitals across the UK, opened the 24-hour emergency care centre at its BMI Clementine Churchill Hospital, in Sudbury Hill on Thursday last week.
Although patients who need urgent attention will still have to go to A & E at Northwick Park, those seeking treatment for non-critical accidents and illnesses can walk into the centre without an appointment.
For an initial assessment fee of £47 residents can be seen within 15 minutes, but there are further charges for diagnostic tests and treatment.
Since the clinic opened for business - before its official opening - four weeks ago 215 patients have used it but the community has mixed feelings. Members of staff outside the new Emergency Care Centre at the BMI Clementine Churchill Hospital in Sudbury Hill.
'The question is whether healthcare should be paid for'
**KIMBERLEY PIERCE, the executive director of the hospital, said the service was not meant to compete directly with the NHS.
She said: "We are very proud to be the first in the UK to deliver self-pay, round-the-clock emergency care.
"It's about giving patients a choice and another alternative.
"They can decide whether they want to come to us or not.
"In four weeks we have seen over 200 patients, had 10 admissions and a high number of referrals, so there is a need for this."
The unit would stabilise a patient who needed serious critical care and then move them to A & E.
The service will be lead by consultants and and a specialist team of senior nurses.
Treatment is provided for minor conditions and injuries, such as fractures, dislocations and infections.
The new service will be in situated less than two miles away from the casualty department at Northwick Park Hospital in Watford Road.
** Councillor BARRY MACLEOD-CULLINANE (Conservative), portfolio holder for adults and housing services, said: "People will go there for many things that they do not need to go to casualty for. "But the question here is whether healthcare should be paid for.
"In Harrow we welcome the extra capacity for healthcare.
"But does this mean we are moving to more people paying for treatment without a proper debate about it?"
** BILL STEPHENSON (Labour), deputy leader of the Harrow Labour group, said: "What most of us want is a really good emergency service at Northwick Park Hospital.
"So nobody needs to pay for treatment. The PCT Harrow Primary Care Trust has been making efforts to try and improve services for people in Harrow."
** A SPOKESMAN FOR NORTHWICK PARK HOSPITAL said he did not want to comment.
Asked wh, he told the Observer he was unable to because it was not yet known what impact the hospital would have.