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Tyrone legend’s doctor wife heads new clinic providing out-of-hours services to patients normally only available on the NHS… and at affordable prices


Sean and Fionnuala, who run two businesses

Sean and Fionnuala, who run two businesses

Dr Vernon checks her husband Sean Cavanagh's ears

Dr Vernon checks her husband Sean Cavanagh's ears

Dr Fionnuala Vernon at her Blackwater Private Clinic

Dr Fionnuala Vernon at her Blackwater Private Clinic


Sean and Fionnuala, who run two businesses

Her sports star husband is a household name in Northern Ireland, yet until now, Dr Fionnuala Vernon has managed to happily stay out of the media spotlight.

Keeping her maiden name in her job as a GP has enabled the wife of Tyrone GAA champ Sean Cavanagh to shelter under what she always saw as a welcome cloak of anonymity.

And now, somewhat hesitantly, Dr Vernon is stepping out of the shadows to share news of an exciting new medical service she hopes will bridge a gap in the health service.

Blackwater Private Clinic intends to reduce lengthy NHS waiting times by delivering a range of tests and procedures on-the-spot.

Dr Vernon is clinical director of the new Armagh-based service which she runs as part of a nine-strong team of GP experts and technical staff.

The idea is to offer local communities cost-effective, rapid routine tests and procedures which many can wait for years to have on the NHS.

All of the GPs in the surgery, including mum-of-four Fionnuala, have full-time jobs with the NHS, and each brings a different speciality to the new clinic which is open in the evenings and weekends.

She stresses: “It is a specialised medical procedures clinic, not a private GP service.

“We offer specialised procedures which have been previously only done in a hospital setting.

“Every GP has had a career or worked in specialist medical areas before they went into general practice and we are tapping into these specialist skills offering a more cost-effective option to patients.

“With extremely long waits for NHS tests and procedures, clients can make an appointment with us and within 10 minutes of talking to a GP can receive their test or treatment.

“There is complete transparency — all our prices are on the website —and evening appointments are available.

“If required, consultant-led care or surgical intervention is signposted towards the most cost-effective hospital care, whether that is in the North or the South, NHS or private practice.”

Fionnuala (39) has been a doctor for 16 years, working across a number of specialities in local hospitals before going into general practice 11 years ago, based in two surgeries in Pomeroy and Dungannon.

She studied for her medical degree at Queen’s University where she met her husband, Sean.

Originally from Armagh, the couple now live in Sean’s home town of Moy with their four children — Eva (11), Clara (9), Sean (4) and Lorcan (2).

Both of their girls have just started to follow in their father’s footsteps by joining their local GAA ladies’ team.

Sean, who runs his own accountancy firm, is a five-time GAA All Star winner.

He played for his local Moy club, Tír Na nÓg and for the Tyrone county team, winning All-Ireland Championships for the county at minor level and three times at senior level.

He also captained Ireland in the International Rules Series.

Home and work life is busy for the couple and for the Cavanagh family, quality time is usually spent outdoors.

Fionnuala says: “It’s a busy lifestyle, but we make it work! I am a dedicated organiser and do batch cooking at the weekend or put the slow cooker on in the mornings for the dinner.

“We both work very hard and any downtime is devoted to the kids.

“There is not much time for TV in our house — it is music, dancing or walks on the beach. Both girls are into Irish dancing and they both play musical instruments.

“Clara plays the fiddle and Eva the harp so you can imagine the racket in our house.

“They have just started ladies’ football as well. Sean and I are both very active and as a family we love being out and about.

“The dream is that wee holiday house in Donegal where we can spend summers with the children, but that seems a long way off at the moment.”

With so many doctors offering different specialities at her new clinic, Fionnuala is confident of maintaining a good balance between home and her work life.

She is passionate about the fact that the new service is bridging a gap in the health service and offers an affordable alternative to private health care.

Based in Georgian offices in College Street, Armagh, it has a special focus on women’s health, men’s health, sports medicine, joint injections, medical aesthetics and an asthma clinic.

Fionnuala exs: “Most of our patients, like me, have never had private health insurance and we feel it is really important for them to be able to access services in a cost-effective way. Patients can come in and access the treatment immediately without having to book a consultation first.

“We are an exclusive regional distributor of Niox Vero, a test used in every hospital in Northern Ireland, which can confirm a diagnosis of asthma inside one minute.

“People usually have to go on a waiting list to see a consultant before they can access this test.

“We can confirm an asthma diagnosis straight away and it will cost just £50.

“Our patients include business executives, farmers, housewives and retirees, mainly from Armagh and border counties.

“We also have a lot of sports people.

“Most are looking for advice from our specialist menopause service, pain relief for joints, airway testing, diet management, ENT issues and anti-ageing aesthetics.”

As well as cost, Fionnuala believes that one of the biggest barriers for people seeking private health care is the distance they have to travel to access it.

Based close to the border in Armagh the clinic has proven popular not just with local people but many have come from the Republic of Ireland.

Fionnuala adds: “GPs are the bedrock of the NHS, accounting for 90% of all work done, often in joint roles with hospitals, industry and sporting organisations.

“As doctors, we encourage patients to be informed and take control of their own wellbeing.

“And we are hoping to provide a local platform for NHS clinics to access free services for patients without the need to travel.

“Most people are coming to us out of choice, not because they need to or are frustrated by not having access to other health services.

“If someone just wants to spend 45 minutes talking to a doctor about the menopause or joint pain, then that’s what we do.”

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