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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

GP services in Carnlough only funded for two half days weekly for 2,400 patients

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council will write to Health Minister Robin Swann to demand the reinstatement of fully-funded GP services in Carnlough.

The move comes after surgery hours in the seaside village were reduced to two half days.

The motion by Coast Road Alliance councillor Alderman Gerardine Mulvenna received cross-party support in the chamber after she told members that 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 that 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 that a bespoke temporary facility was erected at Harbour Road in Carnlough and it was agreed that Glens of Antrim would seek to provide a permanent base to meet needs and a grant woud be provided for this.

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

She reported that the Glens of Antrim centre had funded this service for a further year while it “sought to rectify the funding situation”.

“They went beyond the call of duty and had absolutely no obligation to do this”, she stated.

She indicated that all phone calls are now directed through the Cushendall site and patients have reported having to wait one hour and 45 minutes to get through to reception.

Seconding the motion, Coast Road DUP Councillor Andrew Clarke said that the issue was also about “accessibility, transparency and trust”.

He remarked that GPs would not invest in resources and look for premises if they thought they would “be out in three years”.

He urged the local authority to write to Causeway Coast and Glens council to seek further support.

Braid DUP Councillor William McCaughey suggested that civil servants have “pushed a pen through funding required for a rural area because it suits their budgets”.

He challenged the Health Minister to send one of them to make a trip along the coast, changing buses, to the surgery in Cushendall and back again “to see how much time it takes out of their day”.

Sinn Fein Coast Road Councillor James McKeown added: “As someone who lives in Carnlough, I know on a daily basis the hardship it is putting my neighbours through.

He called on the Minister to reinstate funding or enter negotiations with the GP practice.

He went on to say it is time to stop “stonewalling and sit down and start talking”.

However, Coast Road Ulster Unionist Councillor Maureen Morrow who abstained from supporting the motion insisted that funding had been made available for a three-year period to get it “bedded in”.

She pointed out that Larne and Broughshane surgeries had also taken patients from Glenarm.

“I do not want to see services moving out of Carnlough but this is something that was sorted.”

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 for a review.

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.

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

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 froma 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.”


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