Halton, Cheshire: A hospital outpatient hub located in a shopping centre

Halton Health Hub allows local residents to arrange appointments for their ophthalmic, audiology and dietetics needs.

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Thanks to the partnership work of Halton Borough Council and Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, residents can now pop to the local shopping centre for their ophthalmic, audiology and dietetics outpatient appointments. Halton Health Hub is located in Runcorn Shopping City, an indoor shopping centre in the Halton Lea area of Runcorn. It will initially offer up to 150 appointments each week from five consultation rooms and two ophthalmology diagnostic/imaging rooms.

The challenge

The opening of the Mersey Gateway Bridge in 2017 was a catalyst for regeneration activity in the area, and Halton Borough Council identified Halton Lea as one of eight priority areas for regeneration. The council recognised that investment in regeneration must contribute to wider strategic priorities, such as health and wellbeing.

Halton Lea was one of 10 demonstrator sites for the Government’s ‘Healthy New Towns’ initiative. Wesley Rourke, Halton Borough Council’s Operational Director for Economy, Enterprise and Property, said: “That was a catalyst for further developing the good working relationships between the council and its partners, including the NHS trust and the owners of Runcorn Shopping City. This, in turn, led to the development of a ‘Healthy New Town’ masterplan for the area.”

The partners shared a vision for accessible health services that would also help to boost the local economy by creating extra town centre footfall. In pursuit of that ambition, they were able to use the masterplan to generate business cases for new funding opportunities.

Health services in a town centre location would also help to address some of the health-specific challenges experienced in Halton Lea. The area has poorer health outcomes than national and regional averages, and residents have been impacted by a national and local increase in waiting times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The opportunity to provide healthcare within Runcorn Shopping City would enable an increase in the number of appointments available, helping to reduce waiting times, as well as providing services in a more accessible location.

The solution

The masterplan helped in securing £1 million from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s town centres commission (mayoral funding). From this, £350,000 was earmarked for the Halton Health Hub. Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust provided further funding of over £500,000.   

Halton Health Hub opened in November 2022, with the following outpatient services relocated from the hospital:

  • paediatric and adult optometry/orthoptics
  • paediatric and adult dietetics
  • over 55s hearing screening and assessment.

Lucy Gardner, the NHS trust’s Director of Strategy and Partnerships, said: “The hub will not only enable us to provide more appointments in the heart of the community but also support Runcorn Shopping City, a valued community asset, to thrive – bringing healthcare and retail together.

“Being in an accessible place means that we will be able to prevent patients travelling outside borough for their care and support a reduction in inequality in health outcomes.”

Halton Borough Council had played a key role in brokering the relationship between the NHS trust and the owners of Shopping City. The council provided support and advice in terms of property management, property negotiation and due diligence. The trust was then at the forefront of negotiating the rent and lease agreements. Both organisations worked on the building fit-out, with input from the Shopping City management team. The trust now funds and manages the hub and continues to work with the council on expansion plans.

The impact

The immediate output was the regeneration of a community asset, with 500 square metres of refurbished floor space. Vacated hospital space was then available for other clinical use.

The initial outcomes include:

  • increased diversity of town centre uses
  • a kick-start for broader physical regeneration of Halton Lea
  • wider leverage of public sector investment to support the town centre vision
  • delivery against the masterplan  
  • improved staff satisfaction and patient experience.

The measurable achievements will include:

  • more than 3,000 additional appointments within ophthalmology and audiology each year
  • a reduction of ophthalmology waiting times by up to eight weeks after one year
  • more than 250 additional visitors to Shopping City each week.

Next Steps

The longer term ambition is to maximise the potential of this space, and possibly other spaces, to provide appointments in the heart of the community. This could involve a combination of:

  • additional trust services, where a community location suits
  • other local healthcare providers’ services
  • voluntary sector and wellbeing services.

The trust has already provided space to Halton Borough Council for the provision of a walk-in flu/COVID vaccination service, and to Runcorn GPs to provide a respiratory clinic from within the hub. Funding of £1.3 million has been secured from NHS England’s community diagnostic centres programme to offer additional services at the hub later in 2023 – including sleep studies, phlebotomy and ultrasound.

Lessons learned

  • Strong working relationships and a shared vision of the outcomes were crucial.
  • It took more than five years to progress from the idea to the hub opening – including a public engagement exercise and full consultation.

Halton Borough Council is brokering a conversation between health and further education partners around a new health and education hub, currently at planning stage.


For more information contact Wesley Rourke, Operational Director for Economy, Enterprise and Property, Halton Borough Council: [email protected] or Lucy Gardner, Director of Strategy & Partnerships, Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals: [email protected].