BARNSLEY outpatients will be seen at a shopping centre in major plans to create a health hub in the town centre.

It’s estimated that more than 100,000 visits a year could be made to the Alhambra Centre’s ‘Health on the High Street’ scheme, in order to alleviate pressure on Barnsley Hospital.

Although the Alhambra’s shops will remain on the ground level, changes to its interior layout will be made after an agreement for the hospital’s outpatient services to occupy the shopping centre’s first floor.

Bosses behind the scheme – made up of the council, hospital, Barnsley Premier Leisure, South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority – announced the scheme on Thursday.

They believe the move will help reduce missed appointments given its easy-to-access location, ample parking spaces and public transport links, as well as help ease congestion around the hospital’s Gawber site. It comes after the council – thanks to SYMCA cash – purchased the centre, which opened in 1991, for £4.5m last September after it had been put on the market several years prior.

The Alhambra’s current businesses have ‘responded positively’ to the plans, council bosses say, while it was revealed that although a ‘significant bulk’ of extra cash for remodelling work will also come from the SYMCA, the NHS will provide an undisclosed sum.

Another key part of the Alhambra’s reconfiguration will be delivered by BPL, which is planning a ‘Your Space Feel Good Hub’ to offer a variety of different health, fitness, and wellbeing activities and is expected to attract 150,000 visitors a year.

Sir Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council, said: “Once again Barnsley is leading the way by using innovative approaches to make health services more accessible – this is the next major development for our borough and although it’s an idea that’s been toyed with elsewhere, this is very much groundbreaking.

“We’re delighted to announce our plans to create a health and wellbeing hub at the Alhambra, benefiting the whole community. This is a great example of how we’re working with our partners to use our town centre assets and deliver high-quality services and facilities for our residents.

“With regards to timings, we’re seeing this as a three-year project but we’re hopeful that within two years, patients will start to use the facilities via a phased approach. The health and wellbeing hub will improve our people’s health and wellbeing and boost the footfall and vibrancy of our town centre.

“Bringing health to the high street is part of Barnsley Council’s bold and innovative approach to high street regeneration, which aims to create a more diverse and resilient town centre that meets its residents’ and visitors’ needs and aspirations.

“We know that high streets need to diversify, providing lots of reasons for people to visit, and we’re being proactive in doing this in Barnsley. Barnsley is a bold and innovative place that is leading the way in high street regeneration – we are proud of what we’re achieving together.”

Leaders also said the scheme provides the opportunity to build on the success of the NHS Community Diagnostic Centre in the Glass Works.

Bob Kirton, Barnsley Hospital’s managing director, said: “I am delighted that our board of directors agreed an outline business case supporting this exciting opportunity for the town to build on the success of the ground-breaking Community Diagnostic Centre (CDC) in the Glass Works.

“Feedback from staff and patients has consistently demonstrated Barnsley town centre is a popular and convenient location for healthcare appointments.

“Located within a short distance from bus routes and with easy access to nearby parking, bringing healthcare to the high street will not only help reduce missed appointments but will also improve health outcomes for people who will be more able to access vital services in a place familiar to them.

“This will take a lot of pressure off a very busy hospital.”

South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard praised the town’s ambition and paid tribute to the regeneration’s success.

He said: “The health inequalities we face here are stark but Barnsley’s leading the way in the country with its new town centre, not just the county. We’re investing to tackle that challenge head-on by making access to healthcare easier and this is ultimately what devolution is all about – we’re proud to be a part of this.

“The new health and wellbeing hub in Barnsley town centre will build on the work of the brilliant screening centre, by putting even more vital services and facilities at the heart of the town.”