Con­cern grows over lack of new hos­pi­tal progress

NHS claims it re­mains com­mit­ted to de­vel­op­ing ser­vices in Lochaber

The Oban Times - - News - MON­ICA GIB­SON mgib­son@oban­times.co.uk

CON­CERNS have been raised by com­mu­nity mem­bers af­ter a project to re­place a 50-year- old hos­pi­tal has ‘fallen silent’.

In 2015, the High­land Coun­cil (HC) bought the site on the Blar Mor, next to the health cen­tre, to re­place the Belford Hos­pi­tal.

The eight-acre plot was be­ing sold by Tesco as part of its port­fo­lio of sur­plus sites and had set an im­mi­nent clos­ing date.

Since then a steer­ing group has been set up and the NHS says ‘sig­nif­i­cant back­ground work’ has taken place but read­ers re­cently con­tacted The Oban

Times won­der­ing why no ‘ vis­i­ble’ progress has been made.

One reader said he was prompted to get in touch af­ter hear­ing skilled staff had left the Belford in part be­cause of a lack of be­lief the hos­pi­tal had a vi­able fu­ture.

‘The Belford has been punch­ing above its weight, prob­a­bly for the past 20 to 30 years in terms of ex­per­tise. Highly skilled med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als have come here in­stead of get­ting the big bucks down south be­cause they like the life­style but that is all gone.’

Michael Fox­ley, a for­mer coun­cil leader, was a driv­ing force in get­ting the project up and run­ning.

He agreed there has been less progress than he would have wanted and a lack of per­ma­nent con­sul­tants is cer­tainly a fac­tor.

He added: ‘ The sad loss of Sarah Prince, who was a gifted con­sul­tant, along with an­other who has re­tired and one who left to go to Oban makes things very dif­fi­cult. I have been told there are meet­ings ev­ery month to keep the project go­ing but that some had been can­celled since the death of Ms Prince.’

Con­cern is also mount­ing re­gard­ing the sug­ges­tion peo­ple from Oban may have to travel to Fort Wil­liam for health care as a reuslt of planned cuts.

Mr Fox­ley is ‘ in the­ory’ not against the idea of spe­cialised ser­vices be­ing in Oban or Fort Wil­liam and that over­all he is op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture of the Belford.

‘Pro­vid­ing it is in ad­di­tion to core ser­vices, I think dou­bling the catch­ment area could ac­tu­ally help,’ he said. ‘This is part of a na­tional is­sue in re­cruit­ing staff in ru­ral ar­eas but I be­lieve if we tackle it re­gion­ally then we might be in with a chance.’

The Oban Times con­tacted the NHS, which said it re­mains com­mit­ted to de­vel­op­ing ser vices in Lochaber, which in­cludes a modern hos­pi­tal build­ing.

A spokesper­son ex­plained: ‘The process that we fol­low in such cases is laid down by the Cap­i­tal In­vest­ment Group of the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment. It is com­plex and takes ac­count of all lo­cal ser­vices and mod­els of care as well as hos­pi­tal ser­vices and needs to look to in fu­ture as well as cur­rent needs. We are at early stages of that process and it is im­por­tant we get it right. It is im­por­tant there is strong clin­i­cal en­gage­ment and, due to staffing prob­lems, that has been chal­leng­ing in re­cent months.

‘Nev­er­the­less, back­ground work is on­go­ing with our ser­vice plan­ning depart­ment and oth­ers to progress the data mod­el­ling work re­quired. A very pro­duc­tive meet­ing was held last week and the data will be reviewed on an on­go­ing ba­sis. A fur­ther meet­ing is planned for the end of Fe­bru­ary to dis­cuss the next steps and to scope any ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion that will be re­quired.

‘In ad­di­tion, a work­shop for all Belford Hos­pi­tal heads of depart­ment, along with rep­re­sen­ta­tion from the Lochaber District, has been ar­ranged for next month to look at cur­rent ser­vices, fu­ture as­pi­ra­tions and ideas. This will be cru­cial in shap­ing a clin­i­cal model on which the ini­tial agree­ment with the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment will be de­vel­oped.’

Ac­cord­ing to com­mu­nity mem­bers, the ‘Belford is­sue’ is one which high­lights the lack of a com­mu­nity coun­cil in the area. Fort Wil­liam Com­mu­nity Coun­cil was dis­banded in Novem­ber last year af­ter two failed elec­tions and a third is sched­uled for March.

For more, turn to page nine.

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