Medical services on Skye suffered a blow this week when it was confirmed that a range of surgical procedures would no longer be offered at the MacKinnon Memorial Hospital in Broadford.
NHS Highland is to suspend the endoscopy services it operates in Broadford from next month.
Specifically, the suspension relates to endoscopy services which inspect the stomach, large bowel and bladder. For these procedures, as from early October, patients will be required to travel to Belford Hospital in Fort William or Raigmore in Inverness.
Between 500 and 600 of these procedures are carried out in Broadford every year.
Local politicians have slammed the decision, with one Skye councillor saying he was “horrified” at the prospect of an extra 500 people having to leave the area every year for medical treatment.
The health board say there will be no staff redundancies, but have confirmed that “bank” nursing staff, who routinely helped maintain the service, will no longer be required. The health board expect to save around £92,000 on endoscopy services, of which £87,000 would be on staffing.
In a statement this week NHS Highland said the decision had been taken “for a number of reasons”, including the fact that the decontamination facilities locally are no longer compatible with current standards, which are achieved elsewhere in Highland.
NHS Highland added: “But there are other important reasons, for instance that the endoscope decontamination machine has been repeatedly breaking down. It has therefore been decided the sensible course of action is to put in a contingency plan. The new arrangements will also contribute to achieving financial balance this year.”
The health board say that surgical and urological clinics, GA pre-assessment, minor surgery and nurse-led urodynamics will all continue at MacKinnon Memorial Hospital unchanged.
Dr Paul Davidson, clinical director for North and West said: “The machine has repeatedly broken down, and it is highly likely that it will break down again. We have therefore taken the decision to plan for this and put in alternative arrangements. This will also mean that there will be a reduction in the additional costs that we are incurring.”
He added: “While other endoscope decontamination environments across Highland have been upgraded in recent years, this has not been possible at MacKinnon Memorial Hospital.
“As people will be aware Broadford has been identified by the local steering group as the preferred location for a new hospital on Skye, though as yet no final decision has been taken on this.
“This further emphasises that there is growing urgency to modernise facilities on Skye, wherever the new facility is located. It therefore doesn’t make sense to invest and incur additional cost at this point until a decision on the future configuration of services has been made.”
Skye Councillor Hamish Fraser questioned the wisdom of making people in Skye, Lochalsh and Wester Ross travel for these surgical procedures.
“I’m horrified,” he said. “It’s unacceptable to blame it on the need to make cost savings — because presumably there will be cost implications in taking all these people off the island for treatment elsewhere?
“And if there is a problem with hygiene that should be sorted out, and they should get on with the job.”
Councillor Fraser said the moves represented a warning over the future of health services in the area, and called for a halt to local infighting over the proposed site for the area’s new hospital.
He added: “If the proposed redesign, for whatever reason, does not go ahead this is an indication of what we, in Skye, Lochalsh and Wester Ross could be left with — nothing.”
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant described the announcement as “desperately disappointing”.
She said: “While the movement of care closer to home is recognised as desirable, it is sad to see services becoming more remote. Services need to be safe but this shows a lack of investment.
“NHS Highland do not receive the funding they should under the funding formula. We really need a root and branch review of the NHS in Scotland to ensure it is fit for the 21st century.”
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Dave Thompson said: “It is a very great disappointment that this decision has been made to reduce services in Skye, Lochalsh and Wester Ross when there is an imminent plan to expand services serving the area with the new hospital proposals.
“I understand that the condition of the Mackinnon Memorial may be a problem, but surely it is not beyond the wit of man to find a work around in the interim until the new hospital services are available? I will be writing to Garry Coutts, the Chair of NHS Highland, arguing for this decision to be revisited.”
More than 2,000 people responded to the public consultation on the proposed new hospital for Skye. It is expected that the NHS Highland board will consider the feedback at their meeting in December. Any final decision would then be taken by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing.
Last month the health board predicted that their annual budget for 2014-15 would “break even” — despite the projected figures based on the first three months of the financial year forecasting a £15.6 million overspend. Some £10.5 million of that overspend was attributed to Raigmore Hospital.
NHS Highland’s savings target for the year is £22.4 million.