There is optimism that an emergency meeting next Monday could provide an interim solution to a looming financial crisis facing the privately run hydrotherapy pool at Nairn Hospital.
The meeting was called by NHS Highland, which triggered a storm of protest over a decision to halt its £45,000 annual grant which covers about half the facility’s running costs.
The pool is currently used by 500 patients each month, chiefly from Nairnshire and Moray.
The board yesterday defended its decision despite receiving petitions signed by more than 1,300 people who are pleading for a continuation of the grant.
Alastair McGregor, chairman of the Hydrotherapy Pool Trust and a co-founder of the 30-year-old facility, said he was encouraged by the prospect of fresh talks with the board.
“I’m very optimistic,” he said.
“I have no idea what the content of the meeting will be. It’s come out of the blue but I genuinely think the board has asked for the meeting to see if all those involved can have an input to see just how we’re going to solve the problem.”
The meeting will be chaired by Nairn minister Rev Steven Manders, who is also chairman of the local branch of the Arthritis Care charity which last week offered the trust the potential of “a significant sum” to help.
The trust, health board, Nairn GP practice and clinicians and local councillors will try to thrash out a solution on Monday.
NHS Highland area manager south, Jean-Pierre Sieczkarek, said: “We’ll consider what exactly we want from the hydropool and how do we best sustain it into the future.
“I think it’s probably fair to say that we would have prefered to have got here without some of the anxiety that we generated.”
He categorically denied that the board’s decision to stop the grant was a budget cut, saying the money would be used differently, ideally with less dependence on the pool.
Asked what the alternatives were, he said: “There’s a small number of people in Nairn who benefit greatly from the hydro pool.
“There are many others with exercise regimes that we might be able to negotiate with the likes of Highlife Highland (charity) or, through our own physio department, who may well benefit from a different intervention.
“We feel there’s an opportunity here to give us a larger range of options.”
He added: “If the hydrotherapy pool is what’s indicated then they should be going to the hydrotherapy pool. If it isn’t but people would like to be referred to it we’d prefer our physios to assess that and to give people different options.”
He said that may include an exercise session within the hospital or with Highlife Highland or mean swimming sessions with the use of exercise passes and swimming passes.