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The Highland Line: why Skye's new hospital plan and cash for crofters could prove controversial

In the Highland Line's absence last week it was announced that Broadford had been chosen as the preferred site for a new hospital on the island of Skye, rather than the capital Portree.

There will be three further months of consultation, but Broadford seems to have it.

There has been a north v south debate on the island over many years as to where a new hospital should be sited.

The Dr MacKinnon Memorial Hospital in Broadford won great renown as the place where general surgeon, the late John Ball did his work. Indeed he spent his entire consultant career in Broadford. Despite it being a remote and unfashionable outpost, he established a first-class surgical reputation for the hospital. He retired in 1999, by which time he had won near legendary status in the folklore of the island and was even awarded the Freedom of Skye and Localsh, one of very few to be so honoured.

Today it is a 20 bedded, intermediate care community hospital providing assessment, resuscitation and stabilisation of acutely ill patients, supported by a small team of salaried practitioners. They are in the main GPs, with additional emergency training, allowing the hospital to function at a higher level than most community hospitals. Climbers hurt on the Cuillin ridge are often taken here for assessment first.

Meanwhile, Portree Hospital is a 12 bedded community hospital which has the Portree Medical Centre practice surgery within it. It is supported by 24 hour nursing cover and the medical cover is provided by the local GPs. This is the first port of call for shinty players injured at Skye Camanachd's ground on the edge of the village.

The closure of the two hospitals and the building of a new one will cost an estimated £14m to £15m and Broadford has been chosen as the location by an NHS Highland steering group following public consultation.

A new hospital in Broadford would have X-ray and endoscopy facilities, and be able to carry out minor operations. It would also have inpatient beds and offer outpatient chemotherapy, orthopaedic and chest services.

In health board speak Broadford is to be the hub and Portree the spoke. Behind this cycling allusion, it means that Portree will have a Primary Care Emergency Centre with GP and nurse cover for minor ailments and injuries.

The supporters of Portree had long argued that the new hospital should be based in Skye's capital and largest community, which serves the whole of the north of the island. They would point to the distances the people from the likes of Staffin, Uig, Dunvegan and beyond would have to travel to Broadford.

But as this week's issue of the Broadford-based West Highland Free Press points out, the new hospital will not only serve Skye but also mainland communities across the Skye Bridge in Lochalsh, Kintail, Glenelg, Lochcarron and further afield.

The paper's editorial is persuasive on this point of the mainland patients: "Where public services are concerned we are now all part of the same community, and Broadford is roughly central to that community. It certainly is a long way from Glendale to Broadford. But it is even further from Applecross to Portree."

Skye's airfield, which used to welcome scheduled flights from Glasgow is also near Broadford. It is central to the current high profile campaign to resurrect air services on the island. Although helicopters are normally used for medical evacuations, it would only make sense to have a hospital as close to an airport as possible.

Whatever the geographical rights and wrongs, most islanders desperately want a modern hospital and have done for decades. It looks as though they will at last get one.

Minded is a useful word. If you are minded to do something, you are inclined or disposed to doing it. It doesn't mean you definitely will, but as things stand that is your intention.

Scotland's crofters are desperately hoping that nothing happens to make the environment minister Richard Lochhead draw back from his recent use of the word in the context of the debate over future funding for the agricultural sector.

Following a recent meeting Mr Lochhead said: "In light of the legislative and regulatory requirements on crofting we are sympathetic to the case for specific support for this sector, and I am therefore minded to look at having a separate scheme for crofting in the new rural development programme."

Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) - crofters' representative body - described the minister's words as "music to our ears".

As we noted last month, there was profound concern within the crofting community that the Scottish Government was suggesting that the Crofting Counties Agricultural Grant Scheme, known as CCAGS, be opened up to all small farms and holdings in Scotland.

This was in the context of the current review of the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP). It is the Scottish Government's programme providing grant funding to develop economic, environmental and social benefits for rural areas. It has been worth £1.6 billion over seven years.

Caithness crofter and SCF board member Iain Keith for one was incensed at the idea of opening up the CCAGs, currently shared between 13,00 crofters, to 37,000 small farmers even with a 35% increase in dosh mooted for CCAGs

Memorably he thundered: "It is outrageous! The budget will be swallowed up in no time by the horse paddocks of Eastern Scotland."

It appears that CCAGS may now be denied to those with horse paddocks near Edinburgh. If being minded means Mr Lochhead will drop the pretty daft idea, then he should be congratulated for accepting without too much fuss that the crofters had the rights of the matter all along.

But the crofters' battles aren't over yet. There is the small matter of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Patrick Krause for one says crofters should be aware of farming's "big boys".

He said: "Crofters, as usual, have to fight well above their weight to get what should be coming to them from the CAP. The small producers in the North and West are up against the big businesses (farms) trying to keep the public money flowing into the South and East. Their representative organisations have a very strong lobby and it is no mean feat for the crofters to get a win now and then."

So he urged the crofters to make sure they make their views known during the CAP consultation to ensure it doesn't work against their interests. They have a week to make a suitably loud noise. When it comes to CAP reform it appears noise is necessary.

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