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EDWARD MOUNTAIN: Halt on NHS Highland projects 'another hammer blow'

By Scott Maclennan

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Edward Mountain, MSP outside Raigmore Hospital. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Edward Mountain, MSP outside Raigmore Hospital. Picture: James Mackenzie.

NHS Highland probably thought its biggest challenge this winter would be the usual surge in patients, in what’s become the annual and increasingly predictable “winter crisis”.

But then the organisation hadn’t catered for another hammer blow coming the way of the Highlands from the Edinburgh-based Scottish Government.

It has ordered a halt to new capital projects, which places in great jeopardy the refurbishment of Raigmore’s maternity unit and projects in Caithness and Lochaber.

In an update for stakeholders, NHS Highland said: “In terms of capital projects, we have been advised to stop any project development spend.

“The main projects we are assessing are the Lochaber and Caithness redesigns, Cowal Community and the maternity refurbishment.

“This will be difficult for our staff and our communities to hear and we will work through the implications.”

As the health board admits, the grim instruction is devastating for patients and hard-working staff.

But it’s also unsurprising given how the SNP government has eroded public services.

And the ceasing of upgrade work at Raigmore actually makes clearer than ever the case for an entire replacement hospital.

Ministers obviously don’t consider it worthy of upgrading, so they should use this opportunity to take stock of healthcare in the Highlands and adopt a new approach.

Raigmore itself isn’t as old as some of the country’s creaking hospitals, but in the decades since its construction events in surrounding areas have rendered it totally unfit for purpose.

It was designed for the Highlands but focused on Inverness.

And that would have been fine, had the gradual erosion of cottage hospitals in surrounding areas not led to a centralisation of services.

That has sparked greater demand, and a hospital intended to serve a relatively small and close-by population has now opened itself up to swathes of the north of Scotland.

Despite the best efforts of staff and the patience and goodwill of those travelling in, the situation has become untenable.

A rebuild is required, with greater thought given to how NHS Highland can serve its whole population more fairly.

It can still be a specialist centre; patients who require serious care will be quite happy to travel to Inverness to receive it.

But other local hospitals can be reinvigorated to carry out minor operations, and an improved maternity system would prevent many expectant mothers making the frantic journey along the A9 during the most tense moments of they and their family’s lives.

The make-do-and-mend culture that has infected health boards across the country has been fully evident locally, but given last week’s announcement it sounds like even the making do and mending will be put on pause.

More money should be spent now to improve services and save cash in the future. It’s the classic preventative behaviour which the health service is forever urging of its patients.

Doctors agree with me that a new hospital is needed, and patients certainly do.

We now need the decision-makers to arrive at that conclusion before it is too late.

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