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Jamie Stone slams pause on healthcare projects as 'shocking indictment'

By Alan Hendry

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A reconfiguration of Caithness General Hospital is part of the redesign plans. Picture: Alan Hendry
A reconfiguration of Caithness General Hospital is part of the redesign plans. Picture: Alan Hendry

Jamie Stone has accused the Scottish Government of "sheer and unforgivable financial incompetence" over the pause on funding for healthcare construction projects.

Those affected include the community hub and care villages in Wick and Thurso, costing around £55 million, and a reconfiguration of Caithness General Hospital. In March 2022 it was estimated that the overall Caithness redesign cost would be between £76 million and £82 million.

Mr Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, insists his constituents deserve "far better".

NHS Highland has emphasised that work will continue on planning and implementing the redesign even though funding for such projects has been put on hold for at least two years.

Highland councillors in Caithness have accepted that the situation is “not the fault” of the health board.

As previously reported, the Scottish Government has described its capital funding position as "extremely challenging" and blamed the UK government.

"This is a shocking indictment of all we have long been concerned about with the Scottish Government – sheer and unforgivable financial incompetence," Mr Stone said.

"The SNP is trying to blame Westminster for its own oversights. If the UK government did not inflation-proof its capital budget, as a Scottish Government spokesperson has claimed, why did we not hear about it before now?

"The SNP government is spinning the same old broken record – one that we are all sick of hearing.

"My constituents and all the people of Scotland deserve something far better. The electorate is not stupid and will not forgive or forget this."

NHS Highland’s Caithness redesign project team met with a group of stakeholders in Thurso recently after Scottish health boards were told to pause any new capital projects and concentrate on essential maintenance.

The health board stressed that it is vital to continue developing plans to reshape services in the far north and to address “key issues such as workforce planning”.

On January 22, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As set out in our draft budget the capital funding position is extremely challenging. The UK government did not inflation-proof its capital budget which has resulted in nearly a 10 per cent real-terms cut in the Scottish Government’s capital funding over the medium term between 2023-24 and 2027-28. Our emphasis for the immediate future will be on addressing backlog maintenance and essential equipment replacement.

“Our Infrastructure Investment Plan (2021-22 to 2025-26) identified the priority health capital projects for funding within that period. As a result of the cut in our capital budget, a revised pipeline of infrastructure investment will be published in spring 2024 and all due consideration will be given to what projects can be included within that revised plan to ensure it is affordable and deliverable, while providing the best value for money. In the interim, boards have also been advised to pause any new capital projects.”

Last June it was announced that a design team had been appointed for the hubs in Wick and Thurso. The two sites are near Noss Primary School in Wick and at the Dunbar Hospital in Thurso.

Developments elsewhere in the region include a £9 million plan to increase capacity at Raigmore Hospital’s maternity unit in Inverness and a replacement of Fort William’s Belford Hospital.

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