Campaigners fear a north-east hospital temporarily mothballed by the pandemic will remain shut forever.
Staff and resources from Aboyne Hospital were sent elsewhere last March as Covid struck the country, but it has continued to provide some outpatient services.
Now, health bosses are looking to conduct a “strategic needs assessment” to see how best to serve local residents going forward.
But some residents say this has prompted “a general feeling” that the hospital could be closed permanently.
Why is there a review?
Last month Aberdeenshire Integration Joint Board (IJB) began the process of re-evaluating the services it offers across Deeside.
The body is made up of representatives from Aberdeenshire Council and NHS Grampian, and oversees the area’s health and social care partnership (AHSCP).
The review will include Aboyne Hospital as well as Glen O Dee in Banchory, which has continued to offer a bed-based service during the pandemic.
Bosses at the IJB say this will allow proposals for the future to be developed, evaluated and considered.
‘Growing concern’ for hospital’s future
But a joint letter has been penned by the Friends of Aboyne Hospital, two ward councillors and an MSP, concerned about the potential outcome.
They have expressed fears a decision to close the facility is already “a done deal,” as others in recent years have been saved only to shut down later.
In the letter to bosses at the IJB, health and social care partnership and NHS Grampian, they expressed worries about “limited detail” regarding the upcoming process.
It said: “And together with past precedent – centralisation and recent closures – there is a growing concern that decisions may have already been made and that a consultation is aimed at supporting the decision to close Aboyne Hospital, or to reduce the services currently available.”
Closure would be ‘slap in the face’
Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett, who has signed the letter, previously said: “Constituents have told me they would not be here today if it wasn’t for the likes of Aboyne Hospital which helped to save their life.
“The health and wellbeing of residents depend on this and it’s imperative these services continue.
“Both hospitals have proved to be hugely important throughout the pandemic and it would be a slap in the face to residents across Deeside if they were to be stopped.”
‘We are listening to their concerns’
A spokeswoman for Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership said: “There will be an opportunity for people to get involved throughout the process to tell us their views and thoughts, which will include surveys and information and engagement events.
“Once we have identified the key priorities for health and social care services, we will work with the public to meet these needs as best as we can.
“We have received the letter from Friends of Aboyne Hospital and we are listening to their concerns.
“A formal response will be sent directly to the group in due course.”