A flagship trauma centre may never be built in the north-east after the health secretary admitted she will defer to medical experts about its “sustainability”.
Shona Robison said the building of four specialist emergency units in Scotland’s largest cities – including one at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary – was being reviewed because of conflicting advice from top doctors.
Although she insisted the quartet of centres may all be completed, the SNP was accused of a “humiliating climbdown” after a high-profile pledge to build them in 2014.
At the time the Scottish Government said the trauma centres could save up to 40 lives a year.
Minister said they would be able to offer treatment to about 1,200 patients annually – and that they would be operational by 2016.
But yesterday, Ms Robison said: “I’ve not come to any conclusions yet. I’ve asked for more work to be done to get it right because we need to get it right for the next 10, 15, 20, 25 years.
“I’m going to take the time to make sure I take the best advice and get that right.
“Originally we were looking at four centres – and that is still a possibility – but the evidence given to me suggested there could be a range of options.
“I want to organise them on the best way possible and absolutely, we could still end up with four centres, but I want to know that it is a sustainable way forward and that we have agreement among the clinical community about that.”
Announced by Ms Robison’s predecessor, Alex Neil, the trauma centres were intended to treat people with serious injuries, such as those suffered in car crashes.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said last night: “It looks like the SNP are in the process of a humiliating climbdown, with people in Aberdeen and the north-east none the wiser over when any new trauma centre will open, or even if work will begin at all.”
Labour’s public services spokesman Dr Richard Simpson said: “Why on earth did they not do due diligence before making the promise to open four centres?”
Conservative north-east MSP Alex Johnstone added: “Once again, we see a Scottish Government concentrate on central belt bias while the north-east is left lagging behind.”
An NHS Grampian spokesman said: “Our clinicians and managers are participating fully in the work of the national planning forum and are continuing to plan for Aberdeen Royal Infirmary to be a major trauma centre in a north of Scotland network.
“We look forward to the outcome of the national planning forum’s review.”
The National Clinical Strategy takes into account Scotland’s ageing population, the integration of health and social care services, and rapid advances in research and technology.
It calls for as much care as possible to be delivered locally, with people treated close to home, or even in their own homes.
More complex treatments may be delivered by specialist centres, with follow-up treatment available locally.