Campaigners fear a north-east community hospital could be closed for good without urgent public backing.
Insch War Memorial Hospital was temporarily shut in March 2020 as health bosses said it couldn’t operate safely amid Covid-19 restrictions.
Residents are now being asked to register if they wish to take part in a wider review by Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership (AHSCP).
But some campaigners are “extremely concerned” a lack of public support could stop the 11-bed unit from ever reopening, with resources diverted elsewhere.
Allison Grant, vice-chairwoman of the Friends of Insch Hospital, said: “In terms of being able to visit your loved ones who are dying, having to go to Aberdeen or even Inverurie or Huntly, is very, very difficult.”
Friends of Insch Hospital and Community, group members Jane Reid (left), Kerry Smith and Alasdair McCallum (right) at the hospital.
‘Everyone should register’
The group has been working to keep residents informed of the upcoming Strategic Needs Assessment by AHSCP.
The partnership said the project will look at the health and social care services in the area, which includes the almost 100-year-old facility, and how they can be “improved and adapted to meet current and future needs”.
Locals are first being asked to register their interest in giving feedback by July 18, and will then be contacted to do so.
AHSCP said this will ensure the community’s views are heard and used to help shape plans going forward.
Allison added: “We’re trying to get as many people as possible to register, because it’s only if you register that you can take part.
“We’ve been in the village, standing here and there in strategic places, just stopping people who have walked by.
“And we’ve been registering people by paper as well, because you don’t have to do it just online.”
She added: “We understand where the AHSCP is coming from, but we do not believe it’s making the right decision in saying we don’t need inpatient beds in the community.”
At the moment, residents in Insch have the option for hospital care and inpatient care in Aberdeen, Inverurie or Huntly – but Allison said they are often unable to accommodate additional patients.
Additionally, she is concerned the area has already faced cuts to public transport.
“I really do believe that it is the right thing to do – to have local solutions close to
home,” she added.
‘Duty’ to shape ‘well-loved resource’
The partnership says work is already underway to monitor locals’ health needs.
Integration Joint Board chairwoman Rhona Atkinson said: “We are all too aware of the increasing demographic, financial and workforce pressures that our services face.
“It is our duty to ensure that every area of Aberdeenshire has robust and sustainable services that work now, and long into the future.
“There has been much local interest in the future use of Insch War Memorial Hospital and this work will help to shape how such a well-loved resource can be used in the future.”
‘Vital part of a rural community’
Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett said: “Time is running out to register initial interest in what happens at Insch War Memorial Hospital over the coming years.
“It is a vital part of a wide rural community including Strathdon, Rhynie and Alford.
“During the vaccine programme, the focus has been on larger healthcare settings.
“But it’s in everyone’s interest to maintain community hospitals like Insch, keeping services like palliative and post-operative care, minor injuries and GP assessment where they work best.”
Interest can be registered online via the Aberdeenshire Council website, or in writing at Insch Medical Practice or Wilson Chemist, 2 High Street.
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