It’s been operational for a couple of weeks but on Thursday Ballymena’s flagship £25million Health & Care Centre was officially opened by the Health Minister, Simon Hamilton.
While the huge two and a half storey building was busy with patients and staff, Mr Hamilton unveiled a plaque in the sizeable foyer in the presence of special guests including Finance Minister Mervyn Storey, Mayor of Mid & East Antrim Billy Ashe, Northern Trust CEO Tony Stevens, Trust staff and local councillors.
Addressing them prior to declaring the new facility ‘open’, Mr Hamilton said: ““The aim of this new Health & Care Centre is to provide health and social care services for the people of Ballymena and the surrounding area - not in an acute hospital setting but here right in the heart of the community, close to people’s homes. That is the very essence of ‘Transforming Your Care’...it’s very much an example of ‘Transforming Your Care’ in action.
“And, there is an impressive range of services being provided each and every day from this new Health and Care Centre,” he said.
“It’s an incredible list of services that are being provided here - everything from diagnostics, physiotherapy, podiatry, dental services, and mental health clinics. And, it is particularly good to see we have six GP practices operating from this new Health and Care Centre. It really is ‘a one stop shop’ for health and care services in this area and bringing primary care, bringing community services right to the heart of Ballymena and where people live,” the Minister said.
Mr Hamilton paid tribute to the Northern Trust, Project Board, the architects, builders and all others involved for the ‘efforts put in over a long period of time to make this vision a reality’.
“In many respects you are pioneers,” the Minister said, adding: “Anybody who wants to see the future of health and social care can come to Ballymena.”
One of those ‘pioneers’, stalwart campaigner for a new Ballymena-based health and social care centre, Alderman Tommy Nicholl told The Times he was “thrilled” to witness the official opening.
“All the campaigning and all the talking to different people at all levels that myself, Councillor Beth Adger and others have done over some 20 years has now paid off and I’m delighted,” he said.
“I also had a vision to take the pressure off the front line of Antrim Area Hospital and I am seeing that come true today too in this outstanding flagship facility providing a huge range of health and care services,” said Ald. Nicholl.
The new facility is the first Health and Care Centre for the Northern Trust and the largest to date in Northern Ireland. It provides accommodation for six GP practices and a pharmacy, as well as a mix of locally accessible acute, primary and community care clinics including direct referral diagnostic services such as X-ray, district nursing and community nurse specialist services such as diabetes, physiotherapy services, wheelchair service and occupational therapy.
It also features a separate children’s wing for child associated assessments and clinics as well as a mental health department, and provides work stations for approximately 280 staff.
While currently there is car parking in front of the centre for 77 cars, this will be increased to provide a total of 167 spaces by the end of April following the demolition of the existing Outpatients I building.
Martin Kelly, Programme Director of Primary Care Infrastructure Development at the Health & Social Care Board, said: “By accommodating a range of primary care, community and diagnostic services, it is very much at the heart of the community delivering care closer to home and in an environment befitting the 21st century.”
Northern Trust Chief Executive Tony Stevens said: “The Health and Care Centre is a superb facility that will greatly enhance the services that we provide to the people of Ballymena and surrounding areas. The building is designed to facilitate integrated working between clinical and social care teams. It will allow us to deliver truly patient-centred care. I am delighted that it is now operational.”