Calls for for reopening of a north-east minor injuries unit have been bolstered by newly-released usage figures.
The unit at Chalmers Hospital in Banff’s would usually see almost 300 patients each month, according to 2020 figures, but its doors have been closed since March last year.
New figures released by NHS Grampian, however, show that units in Peterhead, Huntly and Fraserburgh are having to pick up the slack.
The Banff unit’s operating hours were reduced following a review by the Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership last year.
That decision met with opposition from residents, and the Banff Macduff and District Safety Group immediately launched a petition to overturn the decision.
But the unit then closed in March, at the start of the first coronavirus lockdown and both locals and politicians have voiced fear the Clunie Street unit might never reopen.
Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid now believes statistics, showing the Banff unit served 9,144 visitors in the two years leading up to its temporary closure and the remaining sites hosted 3,210 patients this time last year, underline their importance.
Mr Duguid said: “These figures highlight once again that minor injury units are providing a lifeline service to people across the north-east.
“I have raised concerns about the future of the minor injury unit at Chalmers Hospital in Banff and we still do not know when or if it will re-open.
“And in Turriff, the ongoing closure of the MIU has deprived people of easy access to treatment.
“With poor public transport links it can be very difficult for anyone without a car to make a journey from Banff to Peterhead or from Turriff to Huntly.
“The figures show that these units were well used prior to the Covid-19 pandemic – and I am sure that would continue as and when they are reopened.”
Richard Menard, Banff and Macduff Community Safety Group’s chairman, welcomed the figures, saying any research which showed “justification” for keeping the unit open should be welcomed.
He said: “There is still a definite need for the unit in this area, especially at the moment with the renewed lockdown.
“People are being told not to travel between different areas, so where do people go?
“If they need care they need to leave their area.”
Aberdeenshire councillors and health officials on the Integrated Joint Board had their planned review into the service stopped in its tracks by the pandemic.
“The review needs to happen and as soon as possible,” Mr Menard said.
“From what I’m hearing the council is not managing to grit a lot of the area and falls are more common at this time of year.”
In November, town councillors in Banff and Macduff expressed unanimous support for the unit’s reopening and the review into the unit’s opening hours to be carried out.
Mr Menard added: “The good thing about that is it’s across the board.
“There’s nothing party political about it, with all our councillors, regardless of their party, caring about their residents’ needs.”
Aberdeenshire Council maintains there are “no plans to reopen the unit imminently” as it maintains flexibility in staffing due to coronavirus restrictions and measures.
And the authority says no date has been set for a paper into the review of the unit’s opening hours.
It was initially due last June.