Cash Crisis Closes Health Centres

Community health centres across Wales are closing because of a lack of funding, BBC Wales has learned. Many of Wales’ 29 healthy living centres, set up to tackle social and health inequalities, have closed and the others face an uncertain future.

They were created five years ago with £18m of lottery money which was matched by other public bodies. An assembly government spokesperson said decisions to continue funding the centres should be made locally.

Total closure figures are not available from the Big Lottery Fund or the assembly-sponsored Wales Centre for Health, which developed and supports the project. But the vice chair of the Ystradgynlais Healthy Living Centre (HLC), John Steadman, told BBC Wales’ The Politics Show that as many as 23 were closing. He said: “I only know of two that have actually had additional funding, one up in the north near Caernarfon and this one.”

The Ystradgynlais centre has received enough funding from Powys County Council to survive another year, he said. The centres were set up to bring preventative health to some of Wales’ most deprived communities, and provide services like mother and baby groups.

The £18m of lottery funding has now run out and many centres cannot find enough cash to continue. But the Big Lottery Fund has said it was never the intention to provide long-term funding.

Hugh Vaughan Thomas, from the fund, said: “It was never expected that we should fund something from lottery sources on a permanent basis. But I think there was every expectation that after our initial period others would be prepared to come in and help meet the costs. Indeed part of the reason for our setting them up was that it took the pressure off the starting up costs… I’m glad that half in a sense are able to continue. I would have liked to have seen far more.”

Opposition politicians have said more should be done by the assembly government to ensure the future of the project. The assembly government, which has provided £75,000 to keep the Maesgeirchen HLC near Caernarfon open until it can secure other funding, said it was “supportive” of the work of the centres.

A spokesperson added: “The decision to continue funding healthy living cCentres in Wales should be decided locally, for example, through partnership working with local authorities and LHBs. This ensures needs are assessed according to the requirements of local communities and in line with the local health, social care and well-being strategies. The Wales Centre for Health is working with healthy living centres and the Big Lottery Fund to assist in these transitions.”