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Thurso councillor welcomes assurance over emergency cases at Dunbar

By Alan Hendry

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A covered-up minor injury unit sign on Thurso's Ormlie Road, on the approach to Dunbar Hospital.
A covered-up minor injury unit sign on Thurso's Ormlie Road, on the approach to Dunbar Hospital.

Caithness councillor Matthew Reiss has welcomed an assurance that emergency cases will not be turned away from a hospital unit in Thurso even though it is officially closed for the time being.

NHS Highland acknowledged last week that Dunbar Hospital's minor injury unit (MIU) had been shut longer than originally planned, as a result of the pandemic and staffing problems.

Councillor Reiss had raised concerns after noticing that MIU signs outside the hospital had been covered up, saying it sent "a worrying message" to the public.

Now he has been told by Christian Nicolson, the health board's district manager for Caithness, that in covering the signs "the aim was to prevent avoidable 'walk-ins' at the unit, particularly by visitors to the area", and that should someone with an injury turn up at the door "staff will do all they can to help and support".

She said: "As you are aware, we were having staffing issues prior to the outbreak of Covid which resulted in frequent ad hoc closures. The requirement to staff at very short notice a Covid assessment centre with experienced staff with advanced skills exacerbated this issue in that we were looking at the same pool of staff who covered the MIU.

"For that reason the decision was taken in March 2020 to close the MIU on a temporary basis. While that closure has been longer than expected, it is still the case that we fully intend to reopen the unit."

Mrs Nicolson emphasised that provision of an MIU is very much part of the healthcare redesign plans for Thurso.

She added: "While I cannot give you a precise timescale at this point, please be reassured that we are doing all we can in the background to get to a point that we can reopen."

Councillor Reiss, who represents Thurso and Northwest Caithness on Highland Council, said: "It is definitely reassuring that staff will treat emergency cases if casualties present themselves at the door, although the NHS does stress that the MIU is not open for routine use at present.

"Highland Council, the NHS and the emergency services all work together for the good of the public. It is healthy and democratic that all public services are open to queries and challenges, partly as improvements often come about because someone, somewhere, questions the status quo.

"As a former frontline police officer, we had a duty to always try and help in any emergency situation, such as driving an ambulance or giving first aid. Seeing an ambulance arrive was always an extremely reassuring feeling and that’s what the public also feel when help arrives in their hour of need.

Dunbar Hospital is 'integral to Thurso and the surrounding area', says Councillor Matthew Reiss.
Dunbar Hospital is 'integral to Thurso and the surrounding area', says Councillor Matthew Reiss.

"The Dunbar is integral to Thurso and the surrounding area and I am quite sure all councillors will give their full support, especially in these pandemic times.”

Ron Gunn, chairman of Caithness Health Action Team, said: "When we were first informed that the MIU signs had been covered up we naturally wondered what was going on and asked for an explanation from NHS management.

"We were aware the MIU had been closed during the pandemic, with staffing and Covid issues, so it is reassuring to hear that the Dunbar staff will do what they can to support patients coming to the unit and that NHS Highland is actively trying to recruit staff to allow the MIU to open again 24/7.

"The MIU is a very important facility for the community around Thurso and the west of the county and we would like to see it fully functional as soon as possible."

A notice stuck to a door at the Dunbar advises people to attend the accident and emergency department at Caithness General Hospital in Wick if their need is urgent.

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