A CO Antrim GP has urged people to lobby against a funding cut which has caused a surgery in Carnlough to drastically reduce its opening hours.
The Glens of Antrim Medical Centre will only open two half days a week because of a reduction in funding from the Department of Health.
The practice, which has a main surgery in Cushendall, took on almost 1,400 new patients after a GP retired in Glenarm.
It set up a full-time service in Carnlough in 2017 but said this now cannot continue.
One doctor has already been let go.
The Department of Health said the practice received an additional payment after it took on the new patients. But it said this money was only supposed to last for three years. It said funding for the new patients “now forms part of the increased standard remuneration this practice now receives”.
Dr John McSparran, who works at the practice, said the reduction in opening hours will have a devastating effect on patients, many of whom are elderly and have “significant health needs”.
He said he understood the funding agreement struck several years ago included taking on new patients, extending the boundary of the practice and the construction of a permanent surgery building.
He said the funding was supposed to last indefinitely and “vehemently disagrees” with the department’s suggestion that it was only to be in place for three years.
“Funding was put in place to recognise that we were essentially operating two practices from two different sites,” he said.
He added: “If we’d thought the agreement was only for three years we’d never have taken it (the Carnlough practice) on.”
He said that as well as the funding cut, none of the other issues, including the building of a new surgery, have been addressed.
Dr McSparran said the funding was pulled in April last year. He said his practice has been in negotiations for months but these have proved unsuccessful.
“Rather than alarm the patients we kept the surgery open in Carnlough in the sense that hope would prevail,” he said.
“We gave them our certified accounts to show that this was making the practice financially unstable. Their response was to say ‘well your original contract in 2004 stipulates that you will do two half days per week so you can revert to that’.
“I am calling on the people in Carnlough to rise up and not accept this situation. I would refer them to the Rural Needs Act, which was passed at Stormont. Before funding is withdrawn from rural communities an equality and impact assessment has to be carried out. I would ask the people in Carnlough to question why they should be treated in this manner.”
Feargal Lynn, who manages a care home in Carnlough, said he was “astonished” by the funding cut. He said a reduction in GP care in the village will have a huge impact on residents in the home.
“The GPs, in my experience, do an awful lot of preventative work and do an awful lot of early diagnostic stuff,” he said.
“The GP service we have received has been exemplary. They’ve just been so supportive of the elderly population.
“The district nursing service and the GPs have played an immeasurable role in preventing unnecessary transfers to hospital.
“This decision, in my view, is going to lead to extra pressures on the hospital system.”