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Carnlough GP surgery: Hundreds sign petition calling for retention of full-time services

Hundreds of people have signed a petition calling for the retention of full-time GP services in Carnlough.

It comes as the Glens of Antrim Medical Centre indicated it would have to significantly reduce its opening hours to two half days a week at its Harbour Road clinic, with the change due to come into effect next month.

The practice, which has its main surgery 10 miles away in Cushendall, said it can no longer cover the costs of a full-time service in Carnlough due to a reduction in funding from the Department of Health.

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The premises opened as a full-time branch surgery in April 2017, taking on almost 1,400 new patients in addition to the 800 it had already, following the closure of a clinic in Glenarm.

The Glens of Antrim Medical Centre's Carnlough surgery (behind chemist). Image by Google maps

Dr John McSparran, who works at the practice, said the issue would have “serious consequences” for the rural community it serves. “Reducing opening hours is going to have a significant impact on people in the Glens,” he added. “Previously we would have had access comparable to other practices, but now everyone will be trying to get through to Cushendall. Some of our patients are elderly or can’t drive, and other GP services are more than 10 miles away. We don’t have adequate bus or taxi services in the area for patients to be able to travel to other surgeries.”

Responding, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “Carnlough branch patients will, of course, still be able to attend the main surgery premises in Cushendall, where a full-time service will continue to be available.

“There has been no cut in funding to Glens of Antrim Medical Centre. The practice did receive an additional support payment which came into effect on February 10, 2017 when the practice agreed to accept 1,381 patients from Antrim Coast Medical Practice. This temporary funding was to support the practice for a period of three years to enable them to manage the registration and complete an initial clinical review of these additional patients.

“The funding was not indefinite; it was additional, temporary support offered to any practice which takes on additional patients following the closure of a nearby General Practice.

“This additional support was extended for a further year due to the impact of Covid-19, and is over and above the standard remuneration practices receive which is based on patient population.

“Even though the agreement ended officially on March 31, 2021 the funding for these 1,381 patients now forms part of the increased standard remuneration this practice now receives. DoH/SPPG also continues to fund the rent and rates for the premises in Carnlough.”

However, Dr McSparran disagreed with the Department’s assertion that the funding was temporary, adding that the practice “would not have agreed to this”.

He added that other elements of the agreement, such as the construction of a permanent building to replace the temporary one behind the pharmacy on Harbour Road, had yet to be addressed. “An invitation remains for the Health Minister to come visit us,” he said.

The online petition to retain full time GP services in Carnlough had by Wednesday morning gathered over 460 signatures, with one supporter noting: “This is a vital resource that needs to be retained.”

Another added: "What about the members of our community that have no access to travel?"

The petition is available here.

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