Assurances sought over hospital’s future

PHOTO: Willie Urquhart/WHFP

NHS Highland have arranged another meeting to decide on the prospect of closing Portree Hospital and building a 10-bed facility at Home Farm nursing home.

Following a meeting of the steering group tasked with implementing the 2018 recommendations of Sir Lewis Ritchie, it emerged on Tuesday that the health authority want to include such a move on a short-list of options that will be considered for Scottish Government funding.

Although this was supposed to have been the last such meeting, another one has been organised by facilitator Norman Sutherland of consultants Higher Ground Healthcare Planning Ltd to “come to an agreement” to see if this option should be included.

Steering group member Professor Ronald MacDonald said this has set “alarm bells” ringing in the community because NHS Highland may end up submitting this option to the government regardless of what the residents of north Skye view as a better alternative. He has described the move to Home Farm as NHS Highland’s “preferred option”.

Questions remain to be answered by the health authority regarding what type of beds any new unit will contain – community, step-up/step-down or palliative –and whether it will have an urgent care function similar to the “walk in” aspect of the current hospital.

Professor MacDonald said: “NHS Highland were concerned about the community’s reaction. They are taking it seriously. But my concern is that, years ago, when then chairman David Alston came to Skye to trumpet the new hospital in Broadford I pointed out that the options appraisal process had not been done properly.

“This time too they have not been following the mandatory regulations. Sir Lewis Ritchie said NHS Highland had to undertake a community needs assessment and project the demographics going forward, but they have not done that. The 10-bed figure has just been plucked out of the air.”

Professor MacDonald maintained that there is “no question” that NHS Highland’s ownership of Home Farm “materially affects” the implementation of the Ritchie recommendations.

He added: “Sir Lewis Ritchie made it clear that we need community beds for people who are not old, particularly palliative beds so that people can be as close to their homes as possible. Even as a short-term solution, the Home Farm option really does not fly.”

Both Skye’s MP and prospective MSP were critical of the renewed threat to Portree Hospital.

Kate Forbes, SNP candidate for next month’s Scottish elections, said: “I have marched alongside campaigners to save Portree Hospital, and secured commitments from NHS Highland about the long-term future of Portree Hospital. Those commitments must stand.

“I understand the community will rightly be concerned about any threats to Portree Hospital. I’m not aware of any genuine threats right now but I would not tolerate any risks to the original commitments to protect Portree Hospital.”

Ian Blackford told the Free Press: “After all the hard work to get this taken off the table people are not prepared to put the closure of the hospital back into the melting pot. The case for Portree Hospital has been made and reinforced. We can’t return to a situation where there is any anxiety in north Skye over its future.

The area needs care beds and a hospital and we cannot be short-changed on either of those.”

Scottish Labour’s Highlands and Islands lead list candidate, Rhoda Grant, and Scottish Labour’s Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch candidate, John Erskine, have also pledged to fight for Portree Hospital to remain open if community fears of closure are realised.

Mrs Grant said: “In 2019 I said there were a number of highs for me including Raasay finding a solution to having round the clock nursing cover –an issue raised since 2016 – but also the Save Portree Hospital campaign, which I supported, winning 24/7 urgent care and the retention of beds.

“I said then that the situation still had to be monitored and that’s been proved right if closure plans are back on the table as feared.

“To me this smacks of the continued centralisation by the Scottish Government and highlights that more money needs to be injected into rural health care.”