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Key NHS Highland infrastructure projects halted on Scottish Government orders



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Raigmore hospital pictured at night. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Raigmore hospital pictured at night. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Key infrastructure projects seen as vital to healthcare in the Highlands are set to come to a grinding halt on the orders of the Scottish Government.

Reports suggest there is a two-year delay on capital projects across the country and in the meantime cash must be redirected to maintenance and essential equipment.

The development is a staggering blow to the Highland health board as it calls into question at least two vital projects.

They are the Raigmore maternity revamp costing almost £9 million and the major overhaul of Caithness healthcare, estimated in March 2022 to cost £76-82 million.

The health board is “assessing” where the axe will fall with a spokeswoman recognising that “we know this news will be difficult to hear”.

But the futures of both the Raigmore and Caithness proposals now look bleak – mostly for those using the specific services impacted.

The Raigmore investment was developed in part as a response to the downgrading of maternity services at Dr Gray’s in Elgin, which piled the pressure on an already over-stretched service.

The Scottish Government revealed a £6.6 million funding package in February 2023 aimed at an integrated maternity service developed jointly by NHS Grampian and NHS Highland.

Planning permission was granted just weeks ago for the extension of ward 11 with seven new birthing rooms and associated en-suites.

The new and upgraded buildings scheduled for completion by 2025 would cost £5 million while £3.8 million was for the 56 extra staff.

It would also include: a reconfiguration of current wards, the birthing suite and special care baby unit and the creation of clinical examination and consulting rooms within the ground floor.

Expectant mothers and their families will want clear answers how the service will now operate because the planned changes were to enable more women from Moray and Caithness to give birth in Inverness.

So too will campaigners in Caithness as the initiative to overhaul healthcare in the county was not just one of the most ambitious but one of the most needed in recent years.

Caithness General Hospital was in line for major improvements and two new community healthcare hubs were to be launched in Wick and Thurso to address local healthcare problems. The hubs would contain facilities for day-care patients, a care home, a community hospital, teams for care at home services and community mental health practitioners as well as GPs.

The loss of that after years of work and lengthy community consultation is likely to deal a further blow to the health board’s relationship with Caithness, which was already fraught over maternity and the lack of women’s healthcare.

MSP Edward Mountain, who has been campaigning for a new general hospital in the Highlands, said he is seeking assurances from NHS Highland and the Scottish Government over front-line services.

He said: “I am not surprised that there have to be cuts, indeed I have been constantly warning that due to the overspend of over £55 million, that services would be at risk.

“Whilst I understand that capital projects may need to be paused, which is highly regrettable, I am absolutely adamant that no front-line care including elective and non-elective surgery should bear the cuts.

“Waiting lists are already excessive and delaying operations to save money would be completely unacceptable.

“I have asked NHS Highland to provide an urgent briefing to MSPs so that we can fully understand the situation and liaise with our local communities to ensure patient views are properly heard by the board.

“I have also contacted the cabinet secretary for NHS recovery, health and social care to seek assurances that no front-line services will be impacted.”

A spokeswoman for the health board said: “In terms of capital projects, we have been advised to stop any project development spend. Instead, funds available should be focused on the maintenance of the estate and essential equipment and digital replacement.

“The main projects we are assessing are the Lochaber and Caithness redesigns, Cowal Community and the Raigmore Hospital maternity refurbishment. Our staff and communities have invested time and effort into these projects and we know this news will be difficult to hear.”

Scottish Government has been invited to comment.

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