Skye residents and officials have voiced their concerns at the lack of progress – and cash – to implement changes promised to give them a “basic” health service on the island.
In a report published in May, Sir Lewis Ritchie recommended changes through a wide ranging report on Out of Hours Services on the island – but with no money in the pipeline from the Scottish Government, or any cash earmarked by NHS Highland, the community on Skye is not confident that any improvements to the hospital bed numbers or out of hours services will ever happen.
Almost seven months on, and after a return visit by Sir Lewis to the island yesterday, only one of the areas of work was making progress and warnings were given about pressures in other medical and emergency services to the island.
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Catriona MacDonald, from SOS NHS, said: “We have been told that the plans for Skye will be going ahead, and we have assurances from David Alston chairman of the NHS Highland board, but with no funding identified it is undermining the confidence of the community that anything will happen.
“There were many conversations with Sir Lewis Richie about funding yesterday – but he wasn’t making any comment.
“We impressed on him how disappointed we were to get a letter from the health minister Jeanne Freeman MSP to tell us there would be no more money allocated.
“And we are still round the table discussing what we are planning to do to get basic NHS requirements on the islands. But all that is doing is undermining the confidence in the process.
“As this is a new way of working for us as a community and the NHS, we don’t know people are trying to be difficult but we all want to move forward in a co-operative manner.
Sir Lewis recommended significantly enhancing healthcare provision on the island, including delivering a 24/7 out-of-hours service, retaining in-patient care and increasing ambulance cover.
Skye councillor John Finlayson said: “You can make as many proposals as you like for improving NHS services on Skye, but until there is a pot of money to go with it, nothing can be implemented.”
Asked about where the funding was coming from to implement the proposals from the Sir Lewis Richie report, a spokesman for NHS Highland said: “In respect of funding, the current position is that any additional funding requirements arising from the implementation of the recommendations are being covered from within existing resource.
“The Cabinet Secretary for Health has made it clear in previous correspondence that there is no additional funding attached to the recommendations at this stage.”
While Kate Forbes MSP, who previously said a case for extra funding should be made to the Scottish Government, saidy esterday: “I am fully supportive of the Richie Report and want to see his recommendations implemented as quickly as possible.
“NHS Highland is responsible for funding healthcare provision across the NHS region, with the health budget protected year on year by the Scottish Government. Any additional support would require a robust business case and justification.
“It would be in nobody’s interest to agree to a blank cheque, when it is NHS Highland’s responsibility to ensure all Highland residents have access to reliable out of hours and urgent healthcare provision.”