New Belford project mired in ‘betrayal, neglect and inaction’

The Belford Hospital in Fort William. NO-F04-Belford-Hospital.jpg
The Belford Hospital in Fort William.

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NHS Highland chairman Professor Boyd Robertson was left in no doubt this week there is a feeling of ‘neglect and betrayal’ over the lack of progress on replacing the ageing Belford Hospital in Fort William.

Local steering group members Dr Michael Foxley, former Belford surgeon David Sedgwick and John Hutchison, along with Dr Chris Robinson, have written to Professor Robertson, telling him: ‘Since we met with you in August 2019 any progress has been reversed and you will likely join us in finding this inexcusable, particularly since the hospital completion date has slipped from 2020 to an unspecified date.’

Various groups were set up by NHS Highland (NHSH) in 2015 to develop the New Belford project, along with the steering group, which included health board management, local health service workers and  representatives of community councils.

But Messrs Foxley, Robinson, Sedgwick and Hutchison state that five years later, all there is to show for it is a series of inconclusive and postponed meetings, and still no local project manager, no complete business case and no agreed clinical model for the new hospital.

It has led them to question whether there is really any desire to see this project succeed and they are seeking a strong public reassurance to the contrary from Professor Robertson.

‘Covid is now the excuse for inaction – although it has not stopped work progressing hospital developments in Broadford, Aviemore and, of course, Inverness,’ they told Professor Robertson.

‘We feel betrayed and deliberately neglected by NHSH, which seems determined to reduce activities at the Belford so that it can concentrate resources at Raigmore. Community parties are becoming quite alarmed and irritated by this trend.’

Asked to comment, Katherine Sutton, NHS Highland’s chief officer for acute services, said: ‘As we came out of lockdown the project teams, comprising many of our key clinical staff, have been re-established to support taking the project forward for the new hospital in Fort William.’

The issue was raised at Monday’s meeting of Lochaber Area Committee by Councillor Denis Rixson, who told us: ‘We need to see a full business case sent to the government as soon as possible, because the longer it takes to give them what they need, the more chance there is that this project ends up being kicked into the long grass.’

Area committee chairman Councillor Andrew Baxter agreed to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Jeanne Freeman,  to express councillors’ ‘alarm’ over the delays.