Sense of crisis growing over our health service
There can only be huge concern about the specific circumstances surrounding the downgrading of a GP surgery at Carnlough in Co Antrim and also about the wider message it sends out over the state of our health service.
The Glens of Antrim medical centre opened its Carnlough branch five year ago, taking on almost 1,400 new patients after the closure of a practice in nearby Glenarm where the only doctor had retired.
According to staff at the centre, funding cuts mean that it can no longer cover the costs of a full time service in Carnlough and will have to switch to operating for just two half days per week.
The Department of Health told the BBC yesterday that the payments made to the Glens of Antrim centre between 2017 and 2021 were a temporary measure, of the kind which would be offered to any surgery which takes on additional patients due to the closure of a neighbouring practice.
However Dr John McSparran, who works at the Glens of Antrim surgery, strongly rejected this suggestion and said his practice would never had entered into the arrangement in the first place if it been made clear that it would only last for three years.
The result is that a large rural community has been left with the unwanted prospect of having to drive to Cushendall, Larne or Broughshane on the days when the Carnlough centre is closed, which will be effectively 80 per cent of the working week.
Patients who are ill will clearly face difficulty making the journey, whether they have their own car or have to rely on public transport.
There is an overwhelming case for extending the funding for a full time surgery in Carnlough until at the very least a comprehensive consultation can take place with doctors, patients and their elected representatives.
It will also be feared that the serious problems in Carnlough will be replicated in many other villages and towns as an increasing number of GPs move towards retirement age, an issue which has been flagged up for some time.
A general sense of crisis about our health service has been steadily growing and all the politicians seeking election on Thursday should be prioritising their attempts to find solutions.
The idea that any party might actually prevent a new health minister from taking up office is unacceptable in every regard.