Protestors are gearing up for a demonstration about the downgrading of services at Caithness General – just as the hospital has received a clean bill of health from hygiene inspectors.
A hospital bed will be pushed the 21 miles from Dunbar Hospital in Thurso to Caithness General Hospital in Wick on Sunday in a public display of discontent.
Caithness Health Action Team (Chat) has organised the demonstration as more patients, particularly expectant mothers, have to travel more than 100 miles to Inverness for care.
The threshold for sending mothers to Raigmore was lowered last year after a baby girl died of the e.coli sepsis infection just 40 hours after being born at Caithness General.
The number of maternity beds at Caithness has been cut from six to three.
Nicola Sinclair, secretary of Chat, said: “All first-time mothers and any with complications get sent to Raigmore.
“Patients who would normally have had surgery in Caithness are being sent to Raigmore.
“There are experiences of local people having to go all the way to Inverness for something as simple as a blood test. It is really terrible.”
A total of 21 teams will each push the bed for a mile on Sunday.
She added: “We have a huge amount of teams from local companies, groups and organisations which shows the strength of feeling of how much we value our hospital and about what we see as the downgrading of our services.”
A spokesman for NHS Highland said: “We are aware of the planned bed march which clearly is indicating ongoing concerns around some services in Caithness.
“NHS Highland is issuing a newsletter this week to all homes in the Caithness area which we hope will help to reassure local people that significant service redesign is ongoing.
“Caithness General Hospital is getting a multi-million pound upgrade; we now have consultant surgeons and physicians regularly rotating and working in Caithness General. We have also been able to make a number of key local appointments including three rural practitioners and two advanced nurse practitioners.
“We have had to put in interim measures on the grounds of safety for maternity services which will remain in place until we know the outcome of both local and national reviews.”