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  • Michelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Community continues to battle for return of fully-funded GP services in Carnlough


Carnlough Community Association is being assisted by a human rights organisation in a bid to have “fully-funded GP services reinstated” in the seaside village.


The community group says it has been signposted to the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) with support from the Rural Community Network.


It has reported it has been advised it has a case for a  complaint “on equality grounds”.


Carnlough Community Association has also stated a resident has initiated a complaint to the Commissioner for Older People.



It has also indicated legal advice has been sought regarding a judicial review. However this could not be pursued as the time frame had lapsed, the group said.


CAJ is an independent organisation affiliated to the International Federation for Human Rights and makes regular submissions to a number of United Nations and European bodies established to protect human rights.


Health Minister Robin Swann has said making the temporary GP surgery in Carnlough permanent would be “unfair to other GP practices and would have to be financed at the expense of other practices”.



The Health Minister was responding by letter to correspondence from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council demanding the reinstatement of fully-funded GP services in the seaside village after surgery hours were reduced to two half days.


The minister has insisted the funding arrangement was “never to last indefinitely and was over and above the standard funding which all GP practices received based on their patient population”.



The Cushendall-based Glens of Antrim Medical Centre agreed to accept 1,381 patients in February 2017 following the closure of a GP practice in Glenarm.


As a result, it received additional temporary funding support for three years to assist with the additional workload of adding these patients to the practice, the minister’s letter to councillors stated.



The letter went on to say the Department “continues to fund in full the rent and rates for the branch surgery premises in Carnlough”.


“We have offered the practice additional funding for a nurse to provide  treatment room services at the Carnlough premises. This would be of particular benefit to older patients, for instance for blood pressure checks,” the minister explained.


“The available funding would enable up to five half-day treatment room sessions every week at either Carnlough or the main surgery premises at Cushendall.


“All rural practices face challenges with patient access and geography. Glens of Antrim Medical Centre provides a vital and much-valued service to its patients and we will continue to work closely with them.



“As you will know, we have finite funding for GP services and for all health and social care provision in NI.”


A motion by Coast Road Alliance Alderman Gerardine Mulvenna received cross-party support at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council after she told members Carnlough Surgery took 1,400 patients following the retirement of Glenarm GP Dr Benny Glover in  2017.


Ald Mulvenna said that the Glens of Antrim Medical Centre agreed to take on the majority of patients raising its patient list to 2,400 on the understanding a full service would be provided for Glenarm and Carnlough patients, five days a week and it was not to affect the service in Cushendall.


She explained a bespoke temporary facility was erected at Harbour Road in Carnlough and it was agreed Glens of Antrim would seek to provide a permanent base to meet needs and a grant would be provided for this.



Ald Mulvenna went on to say funding expected to be ongoing has stopped and it is “not financially viable” to provide services at Carnlough Surgery five days a week.


Dr John McSparran, Glens of Antrim Medical Centre, said he welcomes the fact the council has intervened but he fears it may take a tragedy to occur before  a review will occur.

He insisted a “full-time service” was to be provided in Carnlough from the outset.


Dr McSparran said: “The board says funds were only temporary. We vehemently disagree with this.” He went on to say that the practice has “kept the surgery going” in Carnlough for a year at its own expense.


A letter to the media from Dr Margaret O’Brien, assistant director of Integrated Care and head of Medical Services, stated: “In February 2017, Glens of Antrim Medical Centre agreed to accept 1,381 patients from a nearby practice following the retirement of the GP.



“As a result, they received additional, temporary funding support for three years to assist with the additional workload of adding these patients to their practice – eg for registration and introductory clinical reviews.


“This funding arrangement was never to last indefinitely and was over and above the standard funding which all GP practices receive, based on their patient population.


“The Health and Social Care Board (now the Strategic Planning and Performance Group in the Department of Health) agreed to provide this additional temporary support for three years. A fourth year was subsequently provided in light of specific pandemic-related pressures. That final year has now ended.”