A SHOPPING centre will be transformed after major plans to create a town centre health hub in order to alleviate mounting pressure on Barnsley Hospital broke cover today.

It’s estimated that more than 100,000 visits a year could be made to the Alhambra instead of the hospital, while also bringing more visitors and economic benefits into the new-look town centre following the £220m Glass Works regeneration.

Although the Alhambra’s retail element will remain on the ground level, the Chronicle understands significant changes to its interior layout will be made after an agreement was struck 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 - gathered at a press conference this afternoon to reveal the scheme.

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.

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.

“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.

“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.”

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.

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.

“Sharing a space with other healthcare and wellbeing providers makes sense as the people of Barnsley will be able to access a wide variety of services in one place.

“Locating some of our outpatient hospital services in the Alhambra will ultimately mean acute hospital services will have more space available to accommodate patients, staff and facilities.

“Our mission is to provide the best possible care for the people of Barnsley and beyond at all stages of their life, and this project provides us with many options and opportunities to tailor service delivery to best accommodate the needs of the people we serve.”

Cash for the major remodelling work will come from the SYMCA, the Chronicle understands.

South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard said: “The health inequalities we face here are stark.

“We’re investing to tackle that challenge head-on by making access to healthcare easier.

“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.

“I’m really pleased to be able to support that move with a significant investment, as part of our plan to make all of South Yorkshire healthier, wealthier, happier and better connected.”