Barra fears hospital delay

St Brendan’s Hospital and Care Home

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has been approached by locals on Barra who are concerned that a promised new hospital and care facility for the island has been delayed yet again.

It emerged last week that NHS Western Isles did not submit their plans for a replacement for St Brendan’s hospital to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in April, as they previously stated they would.

Jessie MacNeil, a member of the St Brendan’s project board, told the Free Press she only found this out when she phoned the council in Stornoway to ask for an update on a proposed community hub in Castlebay that could also contain a new hospital.

Although the health board and the comhairle have been working on a plan to replace the hospital for many years, the hub concept only surfaced last year. Recent comhairle claims that they have consulted locals on this second plan were described as a “pack of lies” by Mrs MacNeil.

With both plans seemingly active, there is confusion and concern on Barra about the status of the original hospital plan and over the future of Eoligarry Primary School, which the comhairle have stated will be closed if the hub plan is adopted.

Last week, local MP Angus MacNeil criticised the comhairle for closing Eoligarry’s canteen because of a faulty ventilation system. He also maintained that the problem had not been assessed and the £5,000 repair bill was just an “excuse” to close the kitchen.

Mr MacNeil thought closing the kitchen was an “excuse”.

Mrs MacNeil echoed the MP’s comment. “The kitchen excuse is a disgrace,” she said. “The comhairle are required to maintain schools and kitchens.”

In response, a spokesman for the comhairle said: “The ventilation system is an extractor unit. The extractor function is what provides appropriate ventilation to the kitchen area.

”The comhairle sent a member of technical services to the school to check the unit. The unit is not working efficiently to ventilate the kitchen. The unit is old and beyond economic repair.

”The work was put out to tender and £5,100 was considered the best value quote.

”A commitment was made to the parent forum that educational provision would remain in Eoligarry Primary until the new/refurbished school at Castlebay School was agreed and completed.”

With regard to the hospital/hub plans, a meeting was held on Barra at the end of last month at which NHS Western Isles chief executive Gordon Jamieson insisted that applying for planning permission in April “was not a prerequisite” for submitting a full business case for the new hospital to the Scottish Government. According to a letter sent by local campaigners to Ms Freeman this week, the disclosure that the April deadline had been missed “created considerable alarm” on the island.

A spokeswoman for the health authority responded: “NHS Western Isles continues to develop the full business case and, whilst April 2019 was an indicative time for planning submission, further work needs concluded first. There is no impact currently on the overall timeline.”

The spokeswoman later said this “further work” involved “trying to reduce avoidable costs”.

In February, the health secretary stated her commitment to delivering a new hospital for Barra within the lifetime of this parliament.

This week, her spokesman said: “We are committed to delivering the St Brendan’s reprovision at the earliest opportunity and NHS Western Isles’ outline business case was approved in April 2018.

”NHS Western Isles, the council and the Integration Joint Board are working to determine the best approach for delivery of the hospital and the Castlebay community hub to ensure public infrastructure best meets the needs of the local population.

”We have made clear that, although we are supportive of NHS Western Isles exploring that opportunity, we do not want it to create any further delay in the submission of the full business case for the health centre.”

Article by Michael Russell