NHS Highland has been given the go ahead for progress moves to redesign health services in a rural part of the Highlands.
The health board’s plans for Badenoch and Strathspey include a new hospital in Aviemore for £12million to £15million.
This would eventually lead to the closure of the Ian Charles Hospital in Grantown and the St Vincent Hospital in Kingussie.
The Scottish Government has confirmed that NHS Highland can now progress to submit an outline business case for the proposed changes.
Work has been ongoing since June to prepare the outline business case.
Elaine Mead, chief executive of NHS Highland, said: “Approval by the Scottish Government is a significant step forward and recognition of the huge amount of work that has taken place to get to this stage.
“There is a lot of work still to do but I believe we can progress to the next stage with a great deal of confidence in securing the necessary resources.
“I understand there is a great deal of interest in the proposed new hospital and health centre in Aviemore but this redesign will also bring considerable investment in community and care-at-home services and in some new ways of working in our care homes in Grantown-on-Spey and Kingussie.”
The next step in the process is to complete the outline business case, which will then be followed by a full business case.
A site has still to be purchased for the new hospital but it is hoped that this will be done early in 2016/17. Current estimates are that construction work on the new hospital could get under way to build in autumn 2017 and be completed by autumn 2019.
A further round of meetings with local communities and groups is being arranged.
Councillor Jaci Douglas, who is on the project board, welcomed the announcement and said: “This is really positive and I delighted to see that we continue to make progress. Clearly, securing a site is going to be the next important milestone and will allow us to progress with more detailed planning around transport and access.
“I also welcome NHS Highland’s ongoing commitment to involve local people and keep them informed. While there are going to be lots of new developments many things won’t be changing such as the location of Grantown and Kingussie health centres.”