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Swann and Turner to meet Health Department ahead of Kells and Connor patient dispersal

Kells medical practice

UUP North Antrim MLA Robin Swann has secured an urgent meeting with the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health after being alerted to the proposed dispersal of patients within the Kells and Connor Medical Practice. 

Robin Swann said: 

“Patients were understandably concerned whenever they received the letter in January notifying them that the current GP was ending their contract.

"Following that letter, Councillor Keith Turner and myself met with the senior officials charged with running the health service in the absence of a Minister and we stressed the urgency and the importance of finding a long-term workable solution for the practice and its patients. 

“Apparently whilst the Department of Health is trying to find either a replacement GP or practice to take over the running of the medical centre, unfortunately to date that hasn’t proven to be successful. As a result, it now seems that patients – of which I am one – are going to be dispersed to other GP practices.  

“I have long believed patient dispersal was the outcome that most needed to be avoided. Many GP practices are already operating either at or above maximum capacity levels and therefore I am very worried that this could potentially create a domino effect on neighbouring practices if they are required to take on large numbers of new patients in a matter of only weeks.

"This is a concern that a number of local GPs have raised directly with me already. 

“As soon as I became aware of the news that it was likely that no new contract holder has been found and that patients are likely to be dispersed, I immediately sought a further meeting with the Department of Health’s Permanent Secretary and his senior officials; that has now been arranged for the coming days. As a dispersal of patients cannot be allowed to happen as it is in no ones interest".

Councillor Turner added: 

“During the meeting, I will seek firm assurances that every last possible avenue to avoid a patient dispersal is being explored. One important point that I will seek answers to is why the Northern Trust could not have taken on the contract temporarily until a permanent GP replacement could be found?  

“Whenever the Dromore and Trillick GP Practice in County Tyrone was facing the same scenario of patient dispersal which was during Robin's time as Minister of Health, instead of allowing that to happen he instructed the Western Trust to take that contract on. Whilst I fully accept that it’s not a long-term solution, in the case of Dromore and Trillick it did at least ensure patients continued to receive a service and other neighbouring GP practices were not put in immediate jeopardy".

“I believe it’s important that there remains a physical presence in the Kells and Connor area. That could be, for instance, GPs from the local Federation continuing to run a number of sessions each week within the Kells premises as a cooperative. Similarly, I do believe there should remain nursing and allied health professionals based within the Kells practice, as occurred in the Carnlough surgery. I am informed that the centre remains the property of the current contract holder so nothing should be taken off the table,” said Councillor Turner. 

Assembly Member Swann then said: “It’s imperative that the Department of Health moves quickly to try to avoid a patient dispersal outcome. I am seriously concerned that perhaps it could be laying the foundations for even bigger problems in the not too distant future, whereas up until now patient dispersals have been avoided in every instance; if it happens in Kells and Connor, we will see them happening across the country, pushing our primary care infrastructure and GPs to the point of collapse. 

“For the sake of patients, especially the elderly and vulnerable as they perhaps will be the most impacted, it’s critical that between now and the end of April not a single stone is left unturned".

Councillor Turner also confirmed that he has asked the Department, to convene a public engagement session, where the patients of the Kells and Connor practice have the opportunity to question the Department of Health, Trust, and the local GP Federation directly.


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