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'Swift progress' needed on health redesign plans for Caithness

By Gordon Calder

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A CALL has been made for "swift progress" on the proposed multimillion-pound redesign of health and social care services in Caithness.

It came from north MSP Gail Ross after Scotland's health secretary Jeane Freeman gave her backing to the plans which include creating two care hubs in Wick and Thurso. Investment in Caithness General Hospital would also be included as part of the initiative.

The SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross said she warmly welcomed the announcement by Ms Freeman and said it underlined the commitment of the Scottish Government to delivering what the public wants.

"I called for a root-and-branch reform of how we deliver health care in the far north when hundreds of people marched through the streets of Wick and Thurso," Mrs Ross said.

"NHS Highland listened to the people and undertook an unprecedented consultation with groups and individuals voting on different proposals.

"I hope that we can now move forward with decisions on where the hub in Wick will be sited and ensure that swift progress is made on much-needed reform."

Under the plan investment will be made in Caithness General Hospital in Wick.
Under the plan investment will be made in Caithness General Hospital in Wick.

Bill Fernie, chairman of Caithness Health Action Team, is pleased the plans are moving forward after "a process which has lasted several years".

However, he claimed all the minister had done was "agree to go with the hubs but there is no more detail than that".

He said: "We know the preferred site in Thurso is the Dunbar Hospital but we are a bit concerned they are not saying anything about the Wick site so we still don't know if it will be at the Town and County, Pulteney House or possibly a third unnamed site."

Mr Fernie would prefer the Town and County as the location for the hub and suggests land at the back of the building could be used to develop the site.

He thinks the timescale of three years for the delivery of the project is ambitious. "I would think it would be nearer five years," he said.

"There is a lot of work to be done yet. We are at the beginning of the process.

"Plans have to be drawn up and a business case presented before the actual work starts, so there are a lot of issues to sort out but we are pleased it is moving forward."

The additional investment planned for Caithness General should be used to help get more services back to the county, Mr Fernie added.

Trudy Morris, chief executive of the Caithness Chamber of Commerce, is pleased the plans are "a step closer to fruition" and said: "A modern health and social care service will bring real benefits to those living and working in the north Highlands, and will greatly assist with the long-term needs of local businesses to attract and retain skilled staff.

"This redesign also represents a significant investment in the region and a real vote of confidence in the future of the area."

The Caithness civic leader, Councillor Willie Mackay, said: "Although there is a considerable amount of work to be done yet on the planned hubs the priority is now building up a consolidated business case for the redesign."

A full business case is due to be submitted by the summer of 2021 with the project delivery and commissioning planned for 2022.

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