BY MICHAEL RUSSELL
More health services will be removed from Skye and Lochalsh unless NHS Highland agree on a preferred location for a new hospital by the start of next month.
This was the view of Skye councillor Hamish Fraser, speaking this week as his Highland Council colleagues John Gordon and Ian Renwick wrote to the health board urging them to halt the “closure” of Portree Hospital. A campaign group has been also formed in the north of Skye, seeking an independent review of the decision to select Broadford as the “preferred option” for a new hospital. The board are due to make a decision on this on 2nd December.
Mr Fraser said: “The hospitals we have at the moment are totally unfit for purpose and you only have to look at what has happened to the endoscopy service in Broadford to see how fragile the situation is and how quickly it can change. The people who are stalling this process will be responsible for whatever services we are left with.
“We have already had a review of the process conducted by the Scottish Health Council, and they said there was nothing wrong with it. Some of the people I have heard speaking about this are coming from a totally uninformed position – they have not been involved in the process to far.
“The big issue here is the redesign of services. The Scottish Government have the money waiting to go — the timescale is getting tight and we might lose that money. We cannot continue the way we have been. The process is done so let’s get on with it. NHS Highland’s finances are in a terrible state; if we make a mess of this the two hospitals we have at the moment will be closed down and turned into GP surgeries.
“It is totally irresponsible at this stage to start jeopardising this offer and it is not in the best interests of the people of Skye.”
Following a meeting this week in Portree, campaign group spokesman Alan MacRae from Kilmuir said the group was investigating the prospect of legal action if the health board did not recognise the mounting concerns.
Mr MacRae said residents living in central and north Skye – where the bulk of the island’s population live – had serious misgivings because there would be no hospital beds or accident and emergency cover at Portree but insisted it was not a case of north versus south. The group believes the preferred locations options appraisal was “flawed” because the criteria and the weighting marginalised the needs of the population the ‘hub’ hospital would serve.
Mr MacRae, who lives in Kilmuir and is the son of a retired doctor, said: “This recommendation will remove all beds and accident and emergency from Portree and affect health care provision in the area for generations. A strategic decision of this magnitude must have appropriate rigour applied to it. A decision such as this should be based on firm evidence and draw on best practice from throughout the country.
“It has also been reported, and no doubt encouraged by NHS Highland, that Portree Hospital will be ‘upgraded.’ This is simply not true. They are removing all the beds and that’s it. They are in effect closing the hospital
“With road improvements between Lochcarron and Inverness and the perilous state of the road at Stromeferry it simply does not make any sense to refer patients from South West Ross to Broadford. No doubt it would be nice to have the option if required, but for many in the catchment of any new hospital there simply is no alternative”.
The Highland Health and Social Care Committee were due to consider today (Thursday) a report on the consultation process to redesign NHS Highland services across Skye, Lochalsh and South West Ross.
The detailed report, which can be found on the NHS Highland website, also includes feedback on the process from an independent review by the Scottish Health Council.
In its report, published on 24th October, the Scottish Health Council concluded: “Based on our review and feedback from local people we are satisfied that NHS Highland has followed Scottish Government guidance on involving local people in the consultation.
“Overall, feedback received indicated that the majority of people had understood the reasons for change, how the proposals had been developed, and felt listened to and that there have been sufficient opportunities to take part in the consultation.”