A watchdog is being set up after hundreds of people turned out to raise fears about the future of the Lorn and Islands Hospital in Oban.
More than 500 worried residents packed the community council-called meeting at the town’s Corran Halls on Friday night.
Locals were responding after learning that Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP), which is facing budget cuts of up to £24million over the next two years, is undertaking a strategic review of the hospital.
Community council chairwoman Marri Malloy said the changes over the last 20 years were “quite frightening and very worrying”.
“The hospital when it opened had around 150 beds. Today it has around 40,” she said.
“We need an assurance that the future of the hospital is safe and that no further downgrading will take place.”
The hospital performs some operations and has a small maternity ward, however the more complex cases are sent to Glasgow.
Clinic lead, Dr Richard Wilson, said fewer beds are required because changes in medicine mean that people do not have to stay in hospital for as long.
He said that with only three consultants and three physicians, the on-call rota is onerous, leading to difficulties recruiting staff.
Dr Wilson said: “The guarantee that this planning process review group has is we will continue to provide 24/7 care, so that if I need somebody admitted to the hospital they will be admitted.
“Most of the people I admit to the hospital are elderly. It would be morally repugnant to me if they had to travel 100 miles to a hospital in Glasgow.”
Oban resident and former local councillor Neil Mackay said the hospital saved his life after he suffered a heart attack. He said: “When we hear things are going to be reviewed and changed we are concerned. We trust our medical staff but not our politicians.
“Any change, if it is for the better, we welcome that change, but we will be watching.”
A review group, chaired by a non-executive director of NHS Highland, has been set up by the HSCP to take the project forward. It includes patient representatives, Oban Councillor Elaine Robertson, senior clinicians, staff representatives and senior managers from the HSCP.
Mrs Malloy said the community would set up its own group to closely monitor the work on the review.