A new health and care centre promised to Larne eight years ago has not yet materialised, while Ballymena recently unveiled a £25million facility.
During a visit to Inver House in November 2008, the then-health minister Michael McGimpsey announced that the Larne area was to benefit from a new state-of-the-art facility.
We could have a hub system which would ease pressure on local hospitals, provide care closer to homes and keep people in their own homes for longerDr Peter Howie
“While it is too early today to be specific on the detail of the design, it will provide a valuable focal point of Health and Social Care services to the community,” he stated at the time.
Speaking in the Assembly in March 2010, Mr McGimpsey reaffirmed his commitment to the project.
“In November 2008, I announced a significant capital investment of £175 million to improve health and social care services and facilities in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust,” he said.
“That investment will enable key projects to be taken forward, including new health and care centres for Larne and Carrickfergus.
“The Northern Trust is developing business cases for new health and care centres, and they are due to be submitted to my Department later in the year.”
Despite these pledges the first sod has yet to be cut on the Larne project, nearly eight years after the initial announcement.
Dr Peter Howie, who was involved in lobbying for a new health centre to be built, believes Larne could benefit from such a facility.
“We would still like to see that kind of facility being built,” he told the Times.
“Doctors are talking about having federations of practitioners working together to deal with issues such as minor surgery and dermatology, to join up to be able to do more.
“Our Gloucester Avenue building was built in the sixties and it won’t last for another 60 years. I would support a new centre being built and I believe it would benefit the health care service in Larne and would serve for the future.
“We could have a hub system which would ease pressure on local hospitals, provide care closer to homes and keep people in their own homes for longer.”
Former Mayor of Larne Martin Wilson, who was previously the chair of Larne Borough Council’s health committee, said that local councillors had travelled to Huntingdon in England to examine a facility which the Larne service was to have been modelled on.
“At the time it was predicated on the money becoming available in the health service, and it’s widely known that the health service is under pressure,” he told the Times.
“The Ballymena project was on the table at the same time and it has progressed with money going to it but the Larne facility has remained behind.
“In Larne health centre at the moment there are a lot of community services but the building is not fit for purpose.
“At the time there was cross-party support for the project but then the threats to the future of Lisgarel and Inver House became the priority and we took our eyes away from the medical facility.”
East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson said that the “plug hasn’t been pulled completely” on the Larne scheme, and that two pilot schemes in Newry and Lisburn will be assessed by the Executive before decisions are made on future projects.
However, he said that this was unlikely to happen until after the Assembly elections.
“There will be a programme of new health centres as reform of the health service under Transforming Your Care requires that they take the pressure off the hospitals and take services to local areas and this is a way of doing it,” he said.
“When I was Finance Minister and Edwin Poots was Health Minister we were looking at a plan for 15 of these facilities in Larne, Carrick and elsewhere. There would be quite significant savings in the longer run.”
A Northern Trust spokesperson commented: “The then Health Minister did make an announcement in 2008, however this issue was not progressed thereafter.
“Today the Larne PCCC is part of the Department’s Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) for Primary and community Care centres, the total costs of which are estimated at £300 - £350m. The timing of the delivery of these facilities has to be considered alongside other capital investment priorities and depends on future budget availability. These pilot projects are at the point where ‘preferred bidders’ are being appointed and the evaluation will be undertaken during 2016.”