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Assurance given by NHS Highland over Thurso minor injury unit


By Alan Hendry

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A covered-up minor injury unit sign on Thurso's Ormlie Road, near the Dunbar Hospital turn-off.
A covered-up minor injury unit sign on Thurso's Ormlie Road, near the Dunbar Hospital turn-off.

NHS Highland has given an assurance that the closure of a hospital unit in Thurso is only temporary.

The health board acknowledged that Dunbar Hospital's minor injury unit (MIU) had been shut longer than originally planned, as a result of the pandemic and staffing challenges. But it insisted MIU provision remains part of its Caithness healthcare redesign plans.

The unit has been closed for most of the past year and local Highland councillor Matthew Reiss raised concerns after noticing that MIU signs outside the hospital had been covered up. He felt this sent "a worrying message" to the community.

A notice stuck to a door at the hospital advises people to attend the accident and emergency department at Caithness General Hospital in Wick if their need is urgent.

MIU closure notice at the Dunbar Hospital entrance.
MIU closure notice at the Dunbar Hospital entrance.

In an email sent on December 30, Councillor Reiss reminded Michelle Johnstone, north area manager for NHS Highland, of a pledge given in November that the MIU would reopen once new staff were recruited.

Councillor Reiss described the unit as "an integral part of Thurso" and something that was much appreciated by local people.

"For those without cars or spare cash, travelling to Wick is an expensive and time-consuming activity, to say nothing of all the extra miles travelled, especially in these winter months," he wrote.

"I was taken aback to see the MIU signs outside the hospital have recently been covered up, as I had been hoping that reopening was not too far off. This sends a worrying message to the public, namely the threat of another depressing closure, cut or withdrawal of a valuable service or however we wish to describe it."

Councillor Reiss added: "I do understand and agree that if the unit is closed the signs should probably be covered up and, also, that recruitment is a serious challenge."

But he emphasised that it would "provide some much-needed good news for the MIU to reopen as soon as possible". He asked what steps had been taken on recruiting staff "over and above the standard advertising" and requested an anticipated date for restarting the service.

A sign for the Dunbar MIU in Sir John's Square, Thurso. Unlike those near the hospital itself, this one had not been covered up.
A sign for the Dunbar MIU in Sir John's Square, Thurso. Unlike those near the hospital itself, this one had not been covered up.

A spokesperson for NHS Highland said: "The minor injury unit was temporarily closed in March 2020 due to staff shortages and moving some of the team to the Covid assessment centre in Wick. That specialist Covid facility is still in operation and the advanced skills of the team working there are very much still required.

"We have been actively advertising and trying to recruit for a number of months but without success. This is not a challenge that is unique to Caithness but is a challenge across the country.

"We are working hard to re-establish the rural support team who would support the MIU overnight. That work continues.

"The closure of the MIU is temporary. The ongoing pandemic, as well as our staffing challenges, has resulted in the closure being longer than we originally planned for. However, the provision of an MIU for the area is part of the Caithness redesign plans and that has not changed."

Councillor Matthew Reiss sent this photo of a Dunbar Hospital plaque to NHS Highland as 'a reminder of what services used to be routinely provided in Thurso'.
Councillor Matthew Reiss sent this photo of a Dunbar Hospital plaque to NHS Highland as 'a reminder of what services used to be routinely provided in Thurso'.

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