Glenarm locals could be forced to travel for miles to access GP services when the village’s current doctor retires.
Dr Benedict Glover, who has served the Glenarm area for 50 years at the Antrim Coast Road Medical Practise, will leave his post on March 31.
While Dr Glover has remained in his role over winter to ensure a continuation of services, the Times understands that the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) has not received any applications to replace him.
Dr Glover told the Times he is “worried” for his patients and described the shortage of GPs in Northern Ireland as having reached “crisis point.”
“The board has advertised the post and I understand there were no applicants,” he said.
“They were to discuss it with adjacent practises to see if they would be interested in taking over and failing that the next step is to disperse the patient list. I believe that they are still talking to practises in Larne and Broughshane.”
Dr Glover said it would be a “pity” if the GP surgery closed.
“There are a lot of old people in this area and the bus service is not good,” he added.
“There are no closer practises than Larne, Broughshane and Cushendall which are 10 to 12 miles away.
“I’m worried for the future for my patients, which is why I decided to stay on, but I have been here since 1966 and I’m ready to retire.”
Dr Glover said that in the event the practice list is dispersed, it will be the HSCB’s responsibility to find a GP for each of the patients affected.
“The Department of Health need to train more doctors and there is a move towards centralisation and concentrating services in bigger practises in towns, he continued.
“From a patient’s point of view for rural practice it’s not very convenient.”
East Antrim Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said it was “essential that the residents of the area, many of whom are elderly, are not left without full medical cover.”
“I would urge the Health Minister to ensure there are adequate arrangements in place if a permanent GP cannot be found before March,” he added.
UUP MLA Roy Beggs also expressed “disappointment” and “alarm” at the HSCB’s “lack of concrete proposals.”
“It is disappointing after years of warning, there are still no concrete proposals to provide GP services to the area beyond his retirement date of March 2017,” he stated.
“ The potential of having to travel to Larne, Ballymena or Cushendall each time residents from Glenarm and Carnlough need to visit a doctor is not a satisfactory solution. I have written to the Health Minister to highlight this difficulty to the isolated and rural community.”
Former Mayor of Larne Tom Robinson said it would be a “disaster” if the area lost GP provision and called on all elected members to “get together to save the surgery.”
A HSCB spokesperson said: “The Board has written to patients to let them know about Dr Glover’s forthcoming retirement and we would like to reassure patients of the practice that GP services will continue to be provided at this time. We have asked patients to continue to support the practice in the meanwhile and the practice will continue to provide the full range of General Medical Services until his retirement.
“The Board will continue to work to put in place a longer term solution in relation to the delivery of GP services and to ensure that all patients are notified of developments in this matter at the earliest opportunity.”
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