THE wraps have been taken off a major proposal to create a medical village in Rathfriland.
The ambitious plans were revealed at a pre-application event in Rathfriland Community Centre last week.
Back in July it was revealed that plans were being put together for a new medical village, nursing home and associated retirement housing.
Representatives for the McConville family group hosted a consultation event last Thursday (6 September) giving residents a chance to see the proposals and put any questions forward.
The proposal centres on a new facility in the town which would include the demolition of 87-95 Newry Street, buildings owned by MJM founder Brian McConville.
It also proposes to demolish the existing sheds to make way for a new nursing home, medical village and associated retirement housing.
A group spokesperson said it was the family’s aim to help secure better health provisions for Rathfriland.
“As you may know from local knowledge and recent newspaper reports, there is an immediate need for increased primary care facilities in the town.
“Rathfriland Health Centre on John Street is already oversubscribed before the addition of the 2,000+ patients transferring, due to the closure of another medical practice in the area.
“As natives of Rathfriland, the McConville family are deeply passionate about the area and the services available in the vicinity for extended family and many other families, who are proud to call Rathfriland their home.
“When we saw the story in the paper and heard locally about the impending crisis, we wanted to help.”
Those present at the event in the community centre heard that the process is at “a very, very early stage”.
“We are looking at this in two stages, but it may not stack up. We feel we have the know-how and the capability in our group of companies to deliver this for Rathfriland.
“It would be replacing the GP service, but it would only work if all the GPs were on board.
“The idea is of a medical village which would incorporate a retirement home with specialist facility for dementia.
“Then we looked at if we could have complimentary facilities with the pharmacy on site or with a physio, or other complimentary services. Then we looked at the idea of assisted living and the real value of the long-term sustainability of that.
“We also looked at long-term retirement homes for people who want that type of setting but not in a home.”
Pointing out a precedent has been set with a similar facility in Bessbrook which is “working well” they said they would be “looking for a timber frame build”.
Residents at the event also heard of ideas about “succession planning”.
“If you have older GPs who are thinking about retiring, how do they attract new GPs in to replace them?
“If you have a long-term sustainable plan and an opportunity to bring new services to the area, that is how we want to pitch this. That would give them the confidence in this area that there would be a long-term plan.”
At the public consultation several people voiced concerns about access to the medical village and additional traffic in what is already a built-up and busy area of Newry Street.
Some residents highlighted the number of school buses in the area at peak times, as well as several places of worship and associated car parking.
“We are doing traffic surveys and assessments and looking at how we can manage that,” said the representative.
“It’s absolutely essential to get that. Roads Service is going to be the stakeholder and contribute to that.”
Others at the event stressed how busy the road is from 8am each week-day morning, as children are dropped off to school.
“We totally appreciate that,” said Deborah Loughran.
“Schemes like this are never straightforward. The entrance and exit to this is one of the key items we want to address.
“This is a temporary proposal, but if we could get assistance to keep the entrance clear that may well alleviate any of the problems that there are at the minute.”
In a statement to The Outlook, the spokesman said they hoped people in the area “will support us in trying to work on bringing the private sector and the public sector together to deliver for the long-term health and well-being of the people of the wider Rathfriland area”.
“We have had and will continue to have, extensive consultation with the GPs in Rathfriland Health Centre about how we can help alleviate the current situation,” they said.
“We have offered to help bring forward both temporary and long-term solutions. We have also had early engagement with Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council on the matter.
“The temporary proposal would be a fully equipped medical centre to house all the GPs and supporting services with sufficient car parking and auxiliary space. This would be based just off Newry Street.
“We have, through our research, identified a need for additional residential care for older people, especially people with dementia and for people who require assisted-living accommodation.
“We have therefore incorporated these facilities, as well as space for complimentary services such as a pharmacy, dental practice, physiotherapy, chiropractor for example, into a longer-term scheme on the same site as the temporary proposal. We are currently preparing to take this scheme to the planning authorities.
“We will continue to engage with the GPs and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council to see if we can help to deliver healthcare facilities to meet the needs of the local community.”
Further information on the proposals can be obtained from O’Callaghan Planning, Unit 1, 10 Monaghan Court, Monaghan Street, Newry, BT35 6BH, telephone 028 3083 5700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org