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New Newtownabbey health hub proposed for site to the rear of Whiteabbey Hospital

Proposals for a new Newtownabbey health and care centre were outlined at a meeting of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust board on Thursday.

Dr Petra Corr, Director for Mental Health, Learning Disability and Community Well-being, told board members that it will be located to the rear of the Whiteabbey Hospital site and will involve the construction of a new building, refurbishment and the use of the listed Lanyon building “to create a modernised site”.

Dr Corr said that the development is “very much focused on the delivery of care within the community”.

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The first Health and Care Centre in the Northern Trust area opened at Cushendall Road, Ballymena, in February 2016, at a cost of £25m to provide a “one-stop centre for assessment, treatment and provision of care”.

Whiteabbey Hospital. Pic Google

Board members heard that three GP practices in the Newtownabbey area have expressed an interest in relocating to the proposed new building which Dr Corr said will provide “fit for purpose accommodation”.

The hub will also bring together a range of services from 17 Northern Trust sites including mental health, learning disability and paediatrics to one location.

Board member Gerard McGivern asked about project’s dependence on participation by GPs.

Member William Graham asked if there is a reason why just three of seven GP practices in the area wish to relocate.

Dr Corr reported that discussions are taking place with all GP practices in the area and some have indicated issues such as lease commitments elsewhere.

Owen Harkin, the Trust’s Director of Finance and Estates, pointed out that there is “ongoing engagement and negotiations” with GPs.

“The GPs who have committed have a requirement for additional capacity and new facilities,”  he explained.

“It will be 2025/26 before construction starts and 2029/30 before anyone moves in.”

Mr McGivern continued: “I have some concern that unless we know for certain there will be a number of GPs to relocate, there is still something of a risk for us not to reflect that in the business case.”

Mr Harkin reiterated that it will be “eight years before they move in”.

Mr McGivern went on to say that he was “not content at this stage” to give his full approval.

He added: “I think we have a right to raise and challenge these issues.”

Board member Jim McCall asked: “Given the spread of services in the new development, do you have concern about accessibility for people getting to the centre if services are relocated to a Newtownabbey site.

Dr Corr pointed out that some services earmarked for the site are “spread over 17 different locations” at present.

She maintained that the new development will improve access, noting “reasonable bus routes around Newtownabbey”.

Board member Glenn Houston asked if the Lanyon building, which he said, is “in the middle of the site” will be “part of the community care centre or another associated purpose”.

Dr Corr indicated that it will be used as the entrance to the health and care centre with its “lovely frontage”and for a meeting space.

Trust board Chair Bob McCann commented: “It is great to see we are actually putting this historic building back into usage.

“This is a much-needed facility for the community. It is great to see we are mioviung agerad with this and in timely fashion.

“By using the Lanyon building,  there will be minimum disruption at the site. It is a very important consideration for all our patients during the period of construction.”

He went on to say that the Trust has been “fighting strongly for communities to have access to new facilities”.

“Other Trusts have got them in other parts of the Province. Newtownabbey is in great demand to get this. We have fought hard to get this. It would be a shame to lose this for any reason.”

The business case was subsequently approved unanimously.

A spokesperson for the Northern Health and Social Care Trust said previously: “Following a regional prioritisation exercise, Newtownabbey HCC was considered the next priority within the Trust area and included in the next tranche of the regional Primary Care Infrastructure Development programme, which includes four new hub developments

“The proposed development would provide accommodation for primary care, community and distinct acute services, including treatment, rehabilitation and diagnostic services, across paediatric and adult services.  In line with the integrated approach, the business case will explore collaboration opportunities with the community and voluntary sector.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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