December 2, 2023

The Kells and Connor Medical Practice in Ballymena had accepted its fate following a failed search to find a new doctor to run the clinic.

Its 4,000 patients were due to be allocated to other surgeries in the surrounding area from May 1.

The Department of Health said it is “delighted” that a new contractor has been found.

Dalriada Urgent Care, which also provides GP Out of Hours services for the Northern Trust area, stepped in with a proposal just days ago.

“[It] will provide stability for both the patients and staff of the practice,” a DoH spokesperson said.

“This means the practice will not now close and its patients will not have to be allocated to other GP practices in the surrounding areas.

“Patients of the practice can disregard correspondence issued in the past week about the planned closure.

“The Department very much regrets the uncertainty experienced in the local community.”

Patients will receive a letter confirming the move and have been advised to continue contacting their GP practice as normal.

Former health minister Robin Swann, who lives locally, and councillor Keith Turner warned the closure would likely heap further pressure on already struggling GP practices.

Before the closure was announced, the two UUP representatives met with the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health to stress the urgency for action to be taken.

Mr Swann said the situation could have been avoided if a health minister had been in post.

Both politicians have welcomed the development.

“This has been a deeply unsettling time for both the patients and the staff of the medical practice,” Mr Swann said.

“There were real and genuine concerns that had it been allowed to close, it could create a domino effect for primary care pressures across the wider area.

“Thankfully, this has been the outcome everyone was working towards, and it will now be on all of us to support the practice and the staff.

“I, along with all the other local patients, am sincerely indebted to Dalriada, who have taken over the contract and have worked at speed with Department officials to make this possible. Part of the challenge was meeting the time frame of finding someone in only three months and therefore I do believe that as a wider policy, especially in the case of practices with a single GP contract holder such as Kells and Connor, this needs to be reviewed.

“Unfortunately, not every challenge the health service faces results in a positive outcome, but this is one that we should all be thankful for.”

Mr Turner said the news will bring “great relief” for patients and staff of the practice.

“There had been huge concern over recent days that the practice’s 4,000 patients were going to be dispersed out across a range of other neighbouring GP practices, many of which are already operating at above maximum capacity levels,” he added.

“From the news was first announced that the current contract holder was retiring, Robin Swann and I have been engaging regularly with the senior officials at the top of the Department of Health. We also met the Permanent Secretary at the start of the year and again two weeks ago and during each meeting we stressed the need for a sustainable outcome to be found.

“I had hoped that this would be the outcome, but it wasn’t always certain and it certainly wasn’t without its challenges. As a patient of the practice, I look forward to working with the new contract holders and ask that the people of the village support them as they settle in, to secure the long-term future of the practice.”


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