Government gives thumbs-up to new Belford Hospital agreement

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There was a mixture of delight, relief and no little amount of frustration, it has to be said, in Lochaber this week after the Scottish Government finally gave a major go-ahead for construction of the new Belford Hospital at Fort William.

The redesign of services in Lochaber took another significant step forward after the government’s Capital Investment Group (CIG) approved the initial agreement for the hospital scheme.

The approval sets out the earliest possible start date of April 2026 for construction on the new site in Fort William.

NHS Highland chairman Professor Boyd Robertson, calling the approval a ‘major milestone for the redesign project, said: ‘The news that construction of the new Belford Hospital has been approved is of huge significance.

‘We can now proceed to the next stage which will involve a more detailed development of the replacement Belford Hospital, workforce plan, and redesign of community services across Lochaber and I know the local communities will be delighted to hear that we are making progress.

And the news was welcomed locally, including by constituency MSP Kate Forbes, who has been in the vanguard of efforts to get the project moving quicker.

She told us: ‘As the constituency MSP I am obviously delighted that the initial agreement for a new Belford Hospital has been approved. This is a positive and hugely significant step forward for Lochaber.

The news was welcomed by local constituency MSP, Kate Forbes, pictured visiting staff at the Belford Hospital in October. NO F27 Kate Forbes at Belford 02
The news was welcomed by local constituency MSP, Kate Forbes, pictured visiting staff at the Belford Hospital in October.
NO F27 Kate Forbes at Belford 02

‘The need for a redesign of services in the area is well-documented and has been discussed for quite some time now, so a notional start date of April 2026 feels quite a long way away at this point.

‘Having kickstarted meetings on a new Belford a couple of years ago, I can only pay tribute to the community for their tireless campaigning as well as the new leadership team within NHS Highland who have helped get us to this point.’

John Hutchison, one of the Lochaber community nominees on the Project Team, told the Lochaber Times: ‘We’ve been waiting on this go-ahead since November so it’s great to have this stage in the bag.

John Hutchison, pictured, who says the car park at the Commando Memorial should be considered sacrosanct in any proposals for use of car parks for overnight stays by motorhome users. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos JOHN HUTCHISON John Hutchison. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos
John Hutchison. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos
JOHN HUTCHISON John Hutchison. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos

‘Kate Forbes deserves credit for bringing us together with the determined new leadership team at NHS Highland, to restart a process that was certainly faltering.

‘We had expected construction to start in 2024 but most likely the current economic situation and inflation has pushed the programme back.  Nevertheless, it’s an approval so let’s get on.’

Fellow Lochaber community nominee, Patricia Jordan, added: ‘I’m pleased to be getting some good news and reassurances and we now look forward to getting on to the next stage.’

But not everyone was enamoured by NHS Highland’s fanfare announcement, with John Fotheringham, chairman of Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge and Achnacarry Community Council, finding little to celebrate.

John Fotheringham Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO-F27-John-Fotheringham
John Fotheringham Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos
NO-F27-John-Fotheringham

He told the Lochaber Times local communities would be disappointedthat the earliest possible start date for the new Belford Hospital is still four years away.

‘We have waited 18 years since that momentous meeting in the Nevis Centre, and to hear that we will probably have to wait a further eight at least before we have a new facility is nothing to celebrate, said Mr Fotheringham.

‘I despair for all those who have attended countless meetings over the years just to get to this stage, and for the patients who have to continue to travel to Raigmore for the simplest of treatment.’