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Health chiefs urged to come clean over future of dementia unit


By Will Clark

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The Harmsworth Unit closed temporarily in July 2012
The Harmsworth Unit closed temporarily in July 2012

TRADE union members in Caithness are calling on NHS Highland to make public whether it intends to reopen a dementia care unit in Wick.

Wick and Thurso Trades Council members are agitated about a lack of any firm response from health chiefs about their plans for the Harmsworth unit at the Town and County Hospital.

It was temporarily shut in July 2012 because there was not enough staff to treat patients suffering from dementia and cognitive memory conditions.

Despite NHS Highland stating it would attempt to hire new staff to reopen the ward, the unit remains shut with patients requiring care being transferred to New Craigs hospital in Inverness.

The trades council called an emergency meeting to discuss what action it would take to get answers, as members claimed a failure to reintroduce the service would be a hammer blow to the county.

Chairman Derrick Milnes said the group had written to NHS Highland chairman Garry Coutts asking him to clarify the situation.

He said only when health chiefs make it clear what their plans for the facility are, will it decide what action it needs to take.

"We need to know what is happening and the timescale involved in making the decision," he said.

"The issue has caused anxiety with our members, who felt we had to get involved to do something about it.

"But we need to find out what is happening first – there doesn’t seem to be any direct contact from Mr Coutts about the issue.

"We have sent a letter to him asking him to clarify the situation and, as soon as we have that, we will take action."

The Harmsworth unit is currently undergoing maintenance work, involving the removal of beds, but NHS Highland said no decision about its future had been made.

Any decision about the facility closing permanently would need the approval of the Scottish Government as the move would represent a major change in health services in the area.

NHS Highland area manager Bob Silverwood previously said the use of all medical resources was the subject of a review of health services in Caithness.

He said the ward would figure in that process and various options had been generated, but no official decision had yet been made.

Mr Milnes said any permanent closure would not only be detrimental to health services in the region but to the Caithness economy as a whole.

"We are all fighting to get new jobs and businesses in the county and it would be an enormous blow if it was to shut," he said.

"But we can’t start ranting without finding out the proper facts. If Mr Coutts comes back and says nothing is to be done about it, we will take action.

"The only way we can do anything is to find out what the plans are first."

Meanwhile, Wick community council has confirmed NHS director of operations Gill McVicar has agreed to meet members to discuss the future of the unit at their next meeting on Monday, November 4.


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