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Minister confirms Armagh earmarked for all-in-one ‘health hub’

A primary care centre – bringing GPs and other health services all under one roof – has been earmarked for Armagh.

But, of course, it will be very much dependent on finances and how other similar planned facilities – in Newry and Lisburn – proceed, Armagh I can reveal.

The information has been relayed by Health Minister Simon Hamilton in response to a question in the Assembly from Newry and Armagh MLA Cathal Boylan.

It was in April 2013 that Health Minister Edwin Poots announced new facilities – in Lisburn and Newry – at a cost of £40 million each, which would accommodate GPs as well as a number of community services provided by the Trusts.

The former Minister said the new centres would serve as hubs for the provision of health care in both communities, and were a pivotal part of the reform of health and social care, as set out in Transforming Your Care (TYC).

They were to be financed through a mechanism known as Third Party Development (3PD), which involves a partnership arrangement with a private sector company.

The proposals for the new centres were based on an analysis of the health needs of the local populations and it was envisaged that the centres would serve as ‘hubs’, providing a number of health services – including GP services, diagnostic services, imaging and children’s services – to the wider communities in both Lisburn and Newry.

Completion of the facilities was expected in 2016.

The Sinn Fein representative gleaned the information on the floor after asking the Minister to encourage all stakeholders with an interest in the minor injuries unit in Armagh to participate in the ongoing consultation process.

The Southern Trust last announced recently that it was embarking on a further consultation on the future of the MIU at Tower Hill, which closed last November in what should have been a ‘temporary’ measure.

The Trust, six days later, then presented its plans to a committee meeting of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, which were for the permanent closure of the facility, with patients continuing to attend at South Tyrone in Dungannon and Craigavon Area Hospital.

Off the back of that, Mr Boylan asked Minister Hamilton to encourage the public to have their say, given “the number of cuts to such facilities in the Armagh area in recent years”.

Mr Hamilton, in response to the question yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon, said he was aware of a consultation being conducted by the Southern Health and Social Care Trust in respect of the Armagh minor injuries unit that would run until September 11.

“Whilst not wanting to pre-empt the outcome of that consultation, I join the Member in encouraging people who have an interest in the local community to participate in it,” said the Minister.

The Newry and Armagh representative then asked, looking to the future, if the Minister had any plans for the future delivery of services in the Armagh city and district area, such as through a health hub?

“We have seen cuts over recent years and a transfer of jobs out of that area,” said Mr Boylan.

“Maybe a health hub in the central area would facilitate a number of services, including GPs and everything else. Will the Minister encourage or does he have any plans to facilitate a central hub in Armagh city and district?”

The Minister offered assurances that, whilst a consultation was being taken forward on the future of the Armagh minor injuries unit, it was proposed that all other services on the Tower Hill site would remain there.

“There is no threat to them,” added Mr Hamilton.

And turning to the issue of a primary care centre in the Armagh area, the Health Minister continued: “I noticed early on in this job that there is a bit of a media fascination with decisions to close hospitals wholesale. That is not on my agenda.

“In fact, I want to see the further roll-out and progression of what we have seen being done to a very high standard, particularly in cancer care and coronary care, where we have regionalised specialist centres, where, in some cases, world-class care is taking place as we speak, supported by community hospitals such as those in Armagh and elsewhere in Northern Ireland.

“There is a vital role to be played by those hospitals in supporting the network of acute hospitals across Northern Ireland.

“In respect of a primary care centre, I believe that Armagh is earmarked in the Southern Trust area for a primary care centre.

“However, we are moving forward, with the centres in Ballymena, Banbridge and Omagh, and then we will move forward with a different procurement model for the ones in Lisburn and Newry, which is in his constituency.

“We will evaluate that process and, beyond that, the strategic implementation plan, which is there to roll out the remainder, including Armagh.

“We will assess the future of those, their roll-out, the timing and the budget for all of that on the basis of the outcome of the evaluation of Lisburn and Newry.”

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