THE first polyclinic based in a London hospital opened its doors to patients in the borough this week - and another is set to follow within months.
Health chiefs hope the Hammersmith Centre for Health will build closer links between GPs, nurses and emergency teams, and lead to more efficient treatment.
Part of the Hammersmith Hospital has been refurbished to create the centre, which is the first of a wave of similar surgeries being created across the capital.
It will be followed by the Fulham Centre for Health, which will open at Charing Cross Hospital later this year, and a third polyclinic in 2011, which will be built to address a shortage of services around White City.
Miles Freeman, director of primary care at NHS Hammersmith and Fulham, said the new hospital polyclinics will ease the burden on emergency staff.
He said: "We know a lot of people go to A and E with problems that aren't life-threatening - often it's because people aren't sure where is the best place to go or that other services are closed.
"Rather than telling people not to go to A and E, we want to make sure the right range of doctors and nurses is on hand to help with every kind of problem. Primary care teams will treat the minor problems and offer on-going care for people with long-term conditions, while A and E teams focus on life-threatening emergencies.
"It will mean shorter waits for people with less serious conditions. Everyone who comes through the door at the new centre will be quickly assessed by a doctor and then treated by the most appropriate clinician for their needs."
Tom Butler, of Hammersmith and Fulham Patients' Forum, welcomed the move, but said he hoped it would not have an impact on vital neighbourhood GP surgeries.
"We support it but I think we need to give it a bit of time before we judge it," he said.
"Elderly people build up friendships with their GPs, and if they have to see different people it might make them nervous and cause them to lose confidence."
The White City polyclinic will not open until at least 2011, but a temporary surgery and NHS dentist is due to start up in the meantime, to address the need for services among deprived communities in the north of the borough.
New facilities will also be built at the Milson Road Health Centre in West Kensington, and the former Wandsworth Bridge Road nursing home in Fulham, is being converted to house GPs and other services.
"These plans will reshape the landscape of the NHS in Hammersmith and Fulham," said Mr Freeman, "Ensuring there are high quality primary care services within easy reach of every resident."