Political representatives have accused Health Minister Michelle O’Neill of “failing vulnerable people” over the imminent closure of a County Antrim GP practice serving 2,022 patients.
Earlier this week, village GP Dr Benedict Glover confirmed that patients at his Glenarm practice are to be reassigned after his retirement on March 31, as the Health and Social Care Board has failed to find a GP to replace him or practices willing to cover the surgery.
East Antrim Alliance Assembly candidate Stewart Dickson said that the blame for the closure of the Antrim Coast Medical Practice “lies squarely at Michelle O’Neill’s door.”
He claimed that the outgoing Health Minister had “clearly lost grip of GP services” and had “failed the vulnerable people of the Glens.”
“With this closure coming hard on the heels of the GP practice closure in Portadown, GP services are now falling like a deck of cards,” he stated.
“Without proposed health reforms and an increase in GPs, supply will continue to fall, which is extremely worrying.
GP services are now falling like a deck of cardsAlliance representative Stewart Dickson
“This is devastating news for the over 2,000 patients, who will have to be reallocated to other practices miles from their homes.”
UUP Assembly candidate Roy Beggs accused successive DUP and Sinn Fein health ministers of “failing to invest in primary health care in East Antrim” and said there had been a “failure to prepare.”
“I have lobbied both the Health Minister and the Health and Social Care Board regarding GP services in Glenarm and Carnlough and have supported the concept of an outreach GP surgery as a basic and essential requirement,” he stated.
“The Board has failed to plan ahead by providing investment over the years to create an independent and attractive location to encourage a GP practice to take over the Antrim Coast Medical Practice.
“Over the years, hospitals in Carrickfergus and Larne have closed along with the Minor Injury Unit at Whiteabbey.
“However, we have not received significant investment in primary health care in Larne, Carrickfergus or Newtownabbey to provide alternative services and to limit the pressures on our A&E departments. The Ulster Unionist Party is committed to delivering increasing primary health care funding.”
UUP Alderman Maureen Morrow, a patient at the affected practice, said travel to surgeries further afield would be “difficult, if not impossible” given the “limited bus service.”
She added: “I would call on the Health Minister to ensure that funding is provided for a local base for a GP practice so that surgeries can take place locally in Glenarm, even on a outreach basis”.
Sinn Fein Assembly candidate Oliver McMullan said it is “essential that GP services are retained in East Antrim” and that he had raised the issue directly with Michelle O’Neill.
“Access to GP services is vital in any community but particularly in rural areas,” he commented.
“I am well aware of the need to maintain such services for the community in East Antrim.
“Fears over the future of GP services in the area is causing a great deal of concern in the local area.
“I raised these concerns directly with my party colleague health minister Michelle O’Neill when I brought her to meet GPs in the area recently.
“I would encourage the health board to ensure that every step is taken to ensure that access to GP services is maintained in the area.”
The HSCB previously stated it had “nothing to add” to a statement released last week, which said it was “continuing with negotiations to find a replacement GP” including “ongoing discussions with local GP surgeries.”