PLANS that could see four older Highland hospitals closed to be replaced by two new ones, will be discussed today at a special health board meeting in Inverness.

A paper going before NHS Highland has earmarked the closure of two small hospitals in Kingussie and Grantown-on-Spey to be replaced by a new hospital in Aviemore, as the preferred option for the Badenoch and Strathspey area.

Meanwhile further consideration is to be given to the future of the two hospitals on Skye in Portree and Broadford, and whether they should be replaced by a single newly built facility at a location yet to be decided.

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The report says that to bring the existing hospitals up to to minimum national requirement in Badenoch and Strathspey would cost £5.2m and in Skye £5.5m. But it warns "due to the changing needs of the service and the physical layout and condition these buildings, would never be able to evolve to facilitate modern integrated services".

The Ian Charles in Grantown is a 13 bed, GP led hospital which combined with the local GP surgery. It is supported by 24 hour nursing cover. The St Vincent's in Kingussie is split into two units. The lower floor is 10 bed GP medical unit. Upstairs is a seven bed consultant led elderly mental health unit. Both have 24 hour nursing cover.

Potential sites for a new hospital in Aviemore are currently being finalised with the involvement of the Cairngorm Park Authority and others. It is estimated that it would cost £12m to build.

The board could now move to formal consultation on the plan.