Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of backing off from a pledge to reopen a north-east hospital on last year’s campaign trail.
One year on from visiting Insch in Aberdeenshire, the first minister is facing fresh calls to honour a manifesto commitment to reopen the War Memorial Hospital.
The health facility closed its doors due to staffing pressures at the start of the pandemic – a move which campaigners say has caused “great concern in the community”.
It has yet to reopen and decisions are still to be made over its long-term future, despite the promises from the SNP leader that anything less would be “unacceptable”.
Ms Sturgeon promised to reopen the hospital – by name – as part of a £10 billion “replace and refurbish” package announced during the last Holyrood election.
It has since emerged the money for Insch would have to be approved “on receipt of a business case” being made.
Scottish Conservative Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett wants the first minister to honour her election pledge by returning a “full service” to the hospital.
He told the Press and Journal: “Ms Sturgeon promised the earth to the people of this community, its local campaign group, and to the wider electorate last year. But no assistance came.
“This obviously raises questions for the public about the validity of anything else the first minister says when she visits the north-east”.
Speaking during her visit to Insch ahead of last year’s Holyrood election, Ms Sturgeon said: “I am determined Insch War Memorial Hospital will reopen and I think any suggestion it wouldn’t is unacceptable.
“While the health board is the decision-maker here, as first minister I would not find it acceptable to have a hospital like this not reopening.”
Speaking again at Holyrood in August last year, the SNP leader said she “stands by the commitments that we made on Insch community hospital”.
The Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership recently completed a wider review looking at future options for delivering health services in the area.
Geraldine Fraser, AHSCP partnership manager for Central Aberdeenshire, said: “The agreed options developed through that process will be subject to a public consultation process.”
‘Great concern in the community’
Allison Grant, vice-chairwoman of Friends of Insch Hospital and Community, said there is “great concern in the community”.
She added: “Originally the community were told it was to consolidate staffing due to the pandemic.
“Then, the community were told that any decision to reopen the hospital was to be made conditional on the outcome of a Strategic Needs Assessment.”
The community organisation say the review of services has suffered from “repeated delays” and is currently awaiting its outcomes.
Ms Grant added: “There is widespread enthusiasm within the community to participate in developing a business plan to provide sustainable future health and social care provision in the area to build on the commitment made by Nicola Sturgeon about maintaining a hospital in Insch, retaining inpatient beds.
“We look forward to continuing to work with AHSCP and the Scottish Government to make this a reality.”
The NHS Grampian community hospital normally has 11 beds for patients only requiring the care of a GP or those in rehabilitation following surgery or illness, as well as a palliative care suite.
Responding to Mr Burnett, SNP MSP Audrey Nicoll said: “Whilst the Tories like to give out public money without proper checks – as we saw during the pandemic – we’re committed to protecting the public purse.
“We’re committed to the Insch Hospital and look forward to proposals for its future being brought forward.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “As we set out in our Programme for Government, we’re committed to investing £10 billion over the next decade to replace and refurbish our health infrastructure to build the NHS for the future and ensure patients continue to access high quality care in world class facilities.
“Given the use of public money it is vital that all NHS facilities projects are considered with a robust business case.
“We understand that Aberdeenshire Health and Social Partnership have completed a health needs assessment with a number of options being considered.
“These issues need to be fully considered and the service solution developed and articulated in a business case which would then be submitted to the Scottish Government’s Capital Investment Group for review.
“We are fully committed to supporting services being delivered from the Insch War Memorial Hospital and we look forward to receiving the business case in due course.”