If you can't get to the doctor's, he'll see you at the station

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The Independent Online
The Next arrival on platform one at London's Victoria station is the doctor's surgery.

From 1 August the Medicentre, the first walk-in surgery in a British railway station, will attend to the medical problems of busy commuters as they rush to and from work. Doctors will be on hand for consultations, vaccinations and asthma treatments as the trains go whizzing in and out. There will also be a Well Woman clinic.

Medicentre - a private venture - is convinced it is offering a service people need and want, even if they do not know it yet. Nearly 200,000 people pass through Victoria every day, and market research indicates that more than a quarter of them are not registered with a family doctor. "People are busy and don't want to hang around," says Dr Ahmad Risk, Medicentre's medical director. "They are reluctant to see a doctor because they can't afford to take half a day off."

Medicentre, set up by the Sinclair Montrose Health Group, is targeting the stressed professionals who would rather fit their health problems in with their commuting.

It is also hoping to counter men's macho attitudes about seeing the doctor. A recent survey by Men's Health magazine found that, while three-quarters of men worry about their health, six out of 10 are either not registered with a GP, have never visited their GP, or do not know their doctor's name.

"As a GP myself I'm aware that men are reluctant to see me," says Dr Risk. "They always say 'Oh, my wife/my girlfriend nagged me to come'. We could be a way of breaking the cycle, to get round their dislike of sitting in a stuffy waiting-room."

Convenience and quickness come at a price. For example, it will set you back pounds 30 for a consultation with the doctor; a smear test will cost around pounds 50 and an ECG about pounds 15.

Yet Dr Risk and Kate Bleasdale, the centre's chief executive, see the centre as "Harley Street coming to the high street at an affordable price". They say that, for the people who use it, the service will make more economic sense than the NHS.

"In financial terms the cost isn't much, particularly if you are self- employed, where a half-day lost in the surgery is worth an awful lot. I think it's a cheaper way of getting health care," says Ms Bleasdale. "You already pay for your dentist, your chiropodist, your optician. This is just the same."

Dr Risk says: "If a company has 1,000 staff, the minimum they must lose is 2,000 days per year from people waiting in GPs' surgeries,. So there's an incentive for businesses to get involved in something like this."

It is not offering time guarantees but if some periods prove busy an extra doctor may be called in to keep waiting times down: "I don't want to go down that Pizza Hut route - you get your pizza in 30 minutes or your money back," says Dr Risk. "We're still looking for quality care as well as quickness."

The centre could take pressure off over-taxed accident and emergency units. Up to 30 per cent of patients who attend A&E departments actually require treatment that could be given by a GP. "We're not trying to replace GPs but complement them," says Dr Risk.

If the Victoria Medicentre proves successful, the aim is to expand into major railway stations around the country as well as shopping malls and airports. "We want to be the easyJet of the medical world - relaxed, friendly, laid-back, cost-effective with good quality," Dr Risk says.

A spokesman for the British Medical Association said: "There are 10,000 GP's surgeries around the country and 35,000 GPs. I don't think one walk- in clinic in Victoria is going to make any impact. It's neither here nor there. I can't think why people would want to pay to see a GP when they could see one free on the NHS but we're all in favour of choice."

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