The Health Minister has revealed that her department is seeking to merge GP practices to cover the shortfall of provision in Glenarm after its current doctor retires.
If the merger attempt is unsuccessful, patients could be forced to travel for miles to access other GP practices.
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 Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) has not received any applications to replace him.
Responding to a question from East Antrim Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson over the Glenarm GP service, Health Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The HSCB is currently in discussions with neighbouring GP practices to establish the possibility of one of these practices merging with Antrim Coast Medical Practice.
“Every effort is being made to try to ensure a GP service in Glenarm continues, however should this not be achieved the HSCB will seek to deploy patients to the other GP practices in the area.
“The HSCB has been assured that GP services in Glenarm will continue to be provided in the interim until the current practitioner retires at the end of March 2017.”
Mr Dickson said the Minister’s answer was “a practical example of the shortage in GP provision across Northern Ireland.”
“It is worrying to see the lack of GP services emerging in East Antrim,” he added.
“Without proposed health reforms, supply will continue to fall.”
Meanwhile, 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.”
“There are a lot of old people in this area and the bus service is not good,” he stated.
“There are no closer practices 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.
“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.”
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.”