Coun­cil­lors ques­tion plans for new Belford Hos­pi­tal

The Oban Times - - News -

EL­LIE FORBES eforbes@oban­ 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.’

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