Just days after local councillors voiced concerns about proposals for a publicly funded health and social care hub for the area being shelved, it’s been confirmed that a private investment fund - in partnership with local GPs - is pushing ahead with plans for the creation of new state-of-the-art community healthcare facilities in the town.
In what would be a first for Northern Ireland, the private investors are planning to develop a “community hub for primary care” on a 1.3 hectare brownfield site off Loy Street in the town centre.
The ambitious project, based on a model that’s already widely used across Great Britain, is being backed by four local GP practices.
In addition to providing new, modern surgery space for 16 GPs, the proposed scheme will also accommodate scanning facilities, a minor surgery suite, a pharmacy, out-of-hours consultations and community healthcare partnerships to deliver a range of services. It will also have the potential to develop ‘extracare’ and supported living accommodation for older people, creating a health and wellbeing village.
It’s understood the plans also allow for expansion to facilitate additional Trust services if required in future, and sufficient space to meet increased demand for services due to local population growth.
According to the investment firm leading the project, plans are “well advanced”, with a planning application having been made for the demolition of buildings on Loy Street to facilitate the scheme.
A spokesman for the company said: “The GPs, private investor and Health Board have been working to develop the solution over the past year and are currently finalising proposals to allow the project to proceed.
“It is hoped to have the centre operational within two years from approval of the economic case by the Health Board.”
The spokesman said it’s anticipated that a full planning application for the development will be progressed as soon as the Health Board confirms affordability.
Voicing their backing for the project, the four local GP practices involved in the scheme issued a joint statement stressing that “current healthcare facilities in Cookstown do not meet the future needs of the community.”
“We believe a health and wellbeing village will enable our team of healthcare professionals to deliver a wider range of services and to develop partnerships with other health stakeholders,” the statement said.
“The town’s GPs are united in seeking to progress this model, a programme led by a consortia of some the United Kingdom’s most respected healthcare investors, working in partnership with a local developer. This model has been widely used across GB, successfully delivering significant benefits to local communities.
“We look forward to delivering the needs of our patients in a facility fit for the future.”
At their meeting on April 26, local councillors voiced concerns at the “shocking news” that the Department of Health (DoH) has shelved plans for the provision of publicly funded health and social care hubs in Cookstown and Magherafelt.
Elected representatives agreed to request an urgent meeting with DoH boss Richard Pengelly to discuss “the department and the Health Board’s long awaited vision for health service provision across Mid Ulster, and more specifically the short to medium health hub plans for Cookstown and Magherafelt.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Health has said it is “aware that GPs in Cookstown are in discussions with a private sector developer about the relocation of their services to a health and wellbeing village, where the GPs would enter into a lease agreement.”
Commenting on what such a move would mean for the possible development of a publicly funded health hub for the town in the future - the department’s “preferred way forward” - a spokesperson said: “The DoH recognises that if the GPs in Cookstown were to elect to relocate to a private development, this is likely to impact on the ability to deliver a fully integrated health and care centre at some point in the future.”
The spokesperson added: “It is not anticipated that the Health and Social Care Trust will provide substantial services from this private development, over and above limited ‘wraparound’ services to support the GP practices, e.g. treatment room services.”