Ambulances carrying seriously injured patients on Skye have been ordered to drive past a hospital amid moves to downgrade it, according to angry campaigners.
Skye residents claim paramedics have been ordered to take patients to Broadford instead of Portree – even if they are travelling past it from the north of the island.
Campaigners from the Save our Services group fear NHS Highland is attempting to reduce emergency treatments at Portree in order to justify the decision to build a new hospital in Broadford.
Last night a spokesman for the health authority confirmed ambulance staff had recently been told to take serious A&E cases to Broadford – but insisted this had been “preferred historic practice” for some time.
Islanders said crews had long been in the habit of stopping at Portree when it was the most convenient option – and that to request them to do otherwise was “dangerous” and a case of “dirty dealing”.
It comes after the health authority’s plans for a £15million new hospital at Broadford, with a lesser range of services at Portree, were approved by the Scottish Government earlier this year.
A spokesman for the campaign group said the move was the equivalent of asking emergency patients to travel from Raigmore Hospital in Inverness to Forres for treatment.
He added: “It is a shocking and very dangerous development.
“Our experience in the past is that there have always been staff available at Portree to take emergency patients – no matter how serious their condition.
“We have been made aware of the guidance sent to ambulance drivers asking them to go to Broadford and bypass Portree if necessary.
“When dealing with serious cases a few minutes can make all the difference and it will take around half an hour to get to Broadford in the best conditions.
“They are trying to establish that there is no accident and emergency after the fact in order to justify their decision.”
The campaign group said it had received reports that patients are also being turned away out of hours at Portree, including one young man who had suffered a wound to his ankle.
And critics claim a woman was also sent home from Portree suffering from abdominal pain, having been told she would have to come back at 8am for treatment or to travel to Broadford.
Councillor Drew Millar, Isle of Skye, said: “I would be very disappointed of it is the case.
“I accept the description of Portree as a spoke to the main hospital in Broadford but would hope that as many facilities are retained as possible.”
Donna Melvin, who until recently operated a specialist, privately-owned skin clinic at Portree has lent her support to the campaign group.
She said: “It’s horrifying. There’s a duty of care which needs to be considered above all else.”
Highland and islands MSP Mary Scanlon said she was concerned that insistence on the policy could result in ambulances being “tied up” in an emergency.
She said: “Any move of services has to be done on the best clinical grounds and NHS Highland need to be completely open with the people of Skye about any changes.”
Paul Davidson, clinical lead for the health board, said: “NHS Highland is aware that there has been some confusion in the community over this, but there has not been a change of policy.
“It has been the case for several years that major A&E cases on Skye should go to Mackinnon Memorial Hospital in Broadford where appropriate staff and resources are available to deal with such major cases.
“If a major A&E case does arrive unexpectedly at Portree Hospital, staff there will assess, stabilise and transfer the patients safely to Mackinnon Memorial Hospital or further afield depending on specific requirements.
“It is because of apparent uncertainty in this area that ambulance staff are being issued a reminder of preferred, historic practice.”