Councillors question plans for new Belford Hospital
ELLIE FORBES firstname.lastname@example.org LOCHABER coucillors have expressed concern that plans for the new Belford Hospital are ‘slipping off NHS Highland's agenda’.
The Scottish Government confirmed last Thursday the new Belford hospital in Fort William will continue to be a rural general hospital, after Lochaber MSP Kate Forbes asked for an update.
But Caol and Mallaig councillor Allan Henderson has told the Lochaber Times councillors are not convinced the hospital will be built by 2021, if it is to be built at all.
He said: ‘As we hear of new hospitals coming forward for Skye and Lochalsh and Badenoch and Strathspey, the last meeting council representatives attended did nothing to reassure us that a new build was ‘imminent’, as quoted recently by NHS Highland chairman David Alston.
‘Previously the chairman of the community planning partnership was able to project that a new hospital would be built by 2021, on the site that Highland Council acquired on behalf of NHS Highland, on the Blar Mor. Despite the announcement of appointments to carry forward the work, there has been little to inspire confidence that date will be met or even a hospital delivered. Instead there has been little evidence to convince us that any hospital will be built and very little engagement with local councillors who are, after all, partners.
‘As local councillors we need to be given the correct information and what stage exactly NHS are in the process, if in fact it has even started.’
NHS Highland said it is on schedule for the building to be operational in 2020/21.
Gill McVicar, director of operations for North and West Highland, said: ‘I am sorry councillor Henderson does not feel he has been involved in the process so far. Having checked the distribution for the steering group, I can confirm several councillors were invited to participate. We are aware there are newly- elected councillors and we would be pleased to meet with them to provide an update on the process and progress to date. The appointment of a project manager and advisor are very recent and demonstrates the commitment of NHS Highland to progress the necessary work. The current timescale to which we are working will see the initial agreement complete and submitted by summer 2018 and the building operational in 2020/21. A more robust timeline will be developed as part of the initial agreement process. We are on schedule for that at present.’
The need to replace the existing hospital building in Fort William has become more pressing following the expansion of the Lochaber smelter – with the expectation of up to 1,000 new jobs – as well as an increase in new homes in the area.
Speaking after raising the issue in parliament last week, Kate Forbes MSP said: ‘I’m very pleased to secure the assurances of Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary for Health, that she is keen to press ahead with the new Belford, that care services will be enhanced where possible and that the hospital will continue as a rural general hospital.
‘This is key to recruiting the best doctors and nurses to the hospital who can then provide the best care to people in Lochaber.
‘Good, reliable local healthcare is the fundamental cornerstone of society.’
The Lochaber MSP added: ‘We have a fantastic opportunity to get even better healthcare in Lochaber, with the SNP Government’s promise to build a new hospital.’