NHS Highland today confirmed that the Scottish Government has approved “an external view” to look at the arrangements for North Skye in terms of urgent care, minor injury and access to A&E services.
The news comes on the eve of a day of protest in Portree against ongoing cuts to rural health services.
The health authority say they have listened after meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, the local MSP, MP, elected members and community council representatives.
However, David Alston, chair of NHS Highland, said the wider redesign proposals for Skye, Lochalsh and South West Ross are continuing and “excellent progress is being made to design the new hospital in Broadford, develop Portree as the ‘spoke’ for the north and strengthen community services.”
Community campaigners in north Skye have been angered by plans to remove in-patient beds in Portree, and proposals which they feel leave large parts of the island without access to emergency care.
Mr Alston added: “Despite all our efforts to date, A&E services, emergency planning, and access to 24/7 medical cover, particularly in the north of Skye, continues to be a source of both concern and some confusion.
“I heard this again when I met with representatives of north Skye in August and ongoing also through discussions with others. This is why I made an offer to involve local clinicians and relevant consultants to meet with community representatives. I am in the process of arranging this and I am confident it will take place in early December.
“I would also like to take this a step further and link this into some external opinions of our current arrangements.
“Once this work is completed we would take the findings to the wider public and set up a local forum to oversee any actions.”
However, he continued: “I need to be quite clear that this is not about the wider service redesign for Skye, Lochalsh and South West Ross.”
Commenting on the proposal for an external view local MSP Kate Forbes said: “It’s very important that there is an independent, external view of out of hours and emergency care at Portree Hospital. I’m in no doubt that there is confusion and worry in the north and west of Skye around local provision of emergency care. It’s vital that there are reassurances around local provision and I think that should be provided by somebody who is entirely independent and external.
“Most people I speak to make clear that their concern is not with the location of the new hospital but instead around local emergency care in Portree. That’s where we must focus our efforts to ensure that there is urgent and out of hours care, not just in theory but also in practice.”
Ian Blackford MP said: “As an elected member all I can do is feed-back to the board the concerns being raised. We need local clinicians to advise us and in this case having some external support I am sure can only be helpful all round.
“I will continue to press NHS Highland for dates around the promised meeting with clinicians and to confirm the terms of reference for the external input and time-scales.”