Churchman claims Highland health authority launched “stealth attack” on north hospital

Rev John Murray.

A kirk minister has accused NHS Highland of breaking promises over hospital provision on Skye.

Rev John Murray, speaking in a personal capacity, claimed yesterday that the health board had launched a “stealth attack” on Portree Hospital, “sparking widespread dismay and anger”.

The minister, who leads the Kilmuir and Stenscholl congregation, claimed there was a strong sense that the board was determined to “undermine services” to justify its decision to withdraw inpatient beds.

He has previously urged NHS Highland to reconsider its decision to build a new hospital in Broadford with the loss of all inpatient beds in Portree.

Rev Murray said: “Assurances were given that services at Portree hospital would continue as they were until a new facility was built but half the hospital – the best-equipped bit – has been taken out of use. Apparently it’s because staffing levels won’t allow for its use, but I have my doubts.”

He said patients had reported that mattresses and equipment had been “stored away” as rooms were taken out of operation.

Rev Murray claimed out-of-hours care at Portree Hospital was also being affected.

A spokesman for NHS Highland said: “We can assure Rev Murray that we’re continuing to provide an urgent care service in Portree where appropriate to the clinical need.

“We’re also committed to continuing to provide in-patient care in Portree Hospital until the new care model is in place as agreed.

“The current bed situation at Portree is about staffing levels. In July, because of staff shortages as a result of sickness, we took the decision to reduce the number of patients being looked after in Portree to a maximum of seven as a temporary measure to maintain a safe and sustainable service.

“This is a decision driven by patient safety concerns and not finance.”

Senior charge nurse Chrisann O’Halloran said: “We’re in the unfortunate position that five of our permanent qualified nurses are off sick. Despite our best efforts, we have no staff available to temporarily replace them.

“In the event of an urgent situation, a staff member is on call in Portree or nearby for time-critical situations should that be deemed appropriate.”