Politician says removal of physio services from Glens of Antrim will leave patients needing taxis to access treatment
AN assembly member has hit out at plans to axe physiotherapy services in a rural community - saying patients will be forced to pay for taxis to access treatment as bus routes are so poor.
The SDLP's John Dallat was reacting to an Irish News interview with a Cushendall-based GP who criticised cost-cutting proposals to remove services from his surgery that been available since the 1990s.
There are plans to centralise services in bigger towns such as Ballymena.
Dr John McSparran also told how he was telling patients in his Glens of Antrim practice to "go private" if they had the money as the north's health service was "so defunct".
He cited the case of 90-year-old Danny Murphy, who has spent four years "languishing" on a waiting list for a hip replacement and has gone from being an active member of the community to someone who was housebound.
Mr Dallat said he met with the chief executive of the Northern health trust, Dr Tony Stevens, in December after it carried out an Equality Impact Assessment on the removal of physiotherapy services from the Cushendall surgery.
The Irish News has seen a copy of the trust's assessment, carried out last November, which includes a breakdown of bus routes and costs from Cushendall, Glenariff, Carnlough and Waterfoot to Ballymena.
Some patients will have round trips of between 32 and 36 miles.
The Northern trust officials concluded that the removal of the rural service "would not have a major impact on service users or staff living in a rural area".
"The trust is mindful that this proposal may result in some service users travelling to an alternative location. The trust has considered the distances service users will have to travel and do not believe these distances will have a major impact," the document states.
But Mr Dallat, an East Derry MLA, claimed many vulnerable patients seeking treatment after surgery could be forced to spend up to £100 on taxi fares.
"A lot of the patients affected won't be able to drive and our bus routes are so inadequate - not to mention uncomfortable for someone in pain - that public taxis will be the only viable form of transport," he said.
A spokesman for the Northern trust said it had considered the rural location in its assessment and a "domiciliary physio service was in place" for patients unable to travel.
"The trust did carry out an Equality Impact Assessment which indicated minimal impact," he said.
He added the re-organisation of the trust's outpatient clinics for the musculoskeletal physiotherapy service had significantly reduced waiting times for urgent patients and created a "more resilient service".