A fight to retain a £1million specialist health unit in Inverness has intensified amid fears that work to transform it for an alternative purpose could be imminent.
NHS Highland yesterday denied that work had begun to replace the 12-year-old Highland Heartbeat cardiac rehabilitation unit.
Campaigners are furious because £750,000 of the cost of the facility, at Raigmore, was directly met by public donation. The board intends to close it to make way for other clinical services.
The pressure group “WeAllNeedTheHeartBeat” has petitioned on the issue.
According to its supporters, “men in hard hats and suits were seen with clipboards, tapping at the walls of the building”.
Centre user Pete Gavin, who survived a heart attack two years ago, said: “We’re concerned that NHS Highland are continuing to proceed with a property grab.
“The NHS’s motivation to close it was never to improve cardiac rehab. It was a single-minded, blatant property theft from the people when cardiac issues are the number one killer in this region.”
In a statement yesterday, NHS Highland insisted that it had made “considerable progress towards achieving the modern and improved cardiac rehabilitation service we want to see.”
It said there had been full engagement with the staff and that the service provided at the centre was still being delivered “from within the Highland Heartbeat Centre” and that would be the case “until such time as the use of alternative facilities that enable us to deliver an improved service are confirmed.”
The board also stated that the number of cardiac rehabilitation specialist nurses within the Inner Moray Firth had increased to “two whole-time equivalents” while it had also recently recruited staff for cardiac rehabilitation posts at Raigmore Hospital.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “NHS Highland has sought to assure us that the proposed changes will not take place until and unless there are improved alternative arrangements in place for those in need of cardiac rehabilitation care. We’ll continue to follow their progress.”