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Eighty million pound health redesign project could be delayed by up to 18 months, says former Caithness councillor

By Gordon Calder

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A FORMER Caithness councillor has claimed the £80 million redesign of health services in Caithness could be delayed by up to 18 months – three times longer than has been stated by NHS Highland.

Roger Saxon, who has been involved with the redesign group since 2013, took issue with the health authority's dates which indicated a delay of up to six months in providing new community hubs in Wick and Thurso and changes at Caithness General Hospital in Wick.

Mr Saxon, a former Thurso Highland councillor, said two reports presented to the group by the health authority indicated a delay of up to 18 months.

Roger Saxon says redesign project could be delayed by up to 18 months
Roger Saxon says redesign project could be delayed by up to 18 months

In May last year, a document said the building of the hubs was due to be completed by August 2025 and ready for use by October that year but that timescale was changed in February when it was said the construction would be finished by January 2027 with the hubs operational two months later – a delay of 17 months.

Work at Caithness General was estimated to be completed by April 2025, according to the report in May, but was delayed until February 2026 with the new facilities expected to be operational a month later.

However, in a report in February this year, the date had changed again with the work at the Wick hospital due to finished by July 2027 and the new facilities in use by September that year.

The full business case for the project was due to be ready by December 2023 but has been delayed until June 2025.

Mr Saxon said the report in February showed that the full business case approval will be 11 months late, hub construction 10 months behind schedule as will be the operational date for the new facilities while the completion of the work at Caithness General will be nine months late. The new facilities there would face a delay of 10 months before coming into use, he stated.

But he added: "However, compared to what we were told a year ago, the hubs operational date will be 17 months late, CGH operational date will be 18 months late. And of course, these are still estimates and any project manager will tell you timescales are liable to stretch."

Mr Saxon also queried the reason given by NHS Highland for the delay to the hubs. "This is the first time I have heard of delay due to the hubs needing to be net zero carbon compliant. If this is a new requirement, then it’s a project change and will introduce further delay," he said.

A spokesman for NHS Highland said: "The timeframes we have provided for the redesign are our best estimate and we must factor in the additional work created by net zero carbon targets as well as the ongoing issues in construction across the world at this time.

"This is in-line with other public sector construction projects across Scotland and the U.K. It is also important to highlight that, once we are fully able to understand the net zero carbon targets and how they are incorporated into our design and construction projects, the timeframe for completion could also be brought forward."

As reported last week, Ron Gunn, the chairman of the Caithness Health Action Team said the redesign project could be delayed by two years from 2025 until 2027 although NHS Highland said any extension would be between four and six months.

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