A Church of Scotland minister has accused NHS Highland of breaking promises over hospital provision on the island of Skye, and launching a "stealth attack" on Portree Hospital.
Opinion on the island is divided over whether Skye’s new £15m hospital should be built - in Portree, the island's main settlement where historically there has been a 12 bed hospital; or 25 miles to the south at the 20 bed facility in Broadford which is more accessible to the mainland areas it will also serve.
In February last year Cabinet Secretary for health Shona Robison approved the health board's choice of Broadford.
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The Rev John Murray, of Kilmuir and Stenscholl on the north-east of the island said there was a strong sense in the community that the health board was determined to undermine services in Portree to justify their decision to withdraw all inpatient beds.
Speaking in a personal capacity Mr Murray said: “Assurances were given that services at Portree hospital would continue as they were until a new facility was built.
“Months ago I was visiting in the hospital and patients were telling me about how they were seeing mattresses and equipment being stored away as rooms were taken out of operation."
Mr Murray said out-of-hours care at Portree Hospital was also being affected. “I know someone who went to the hospital at 10.30pm recently having fallen with head injuries. “He was told that if he had come five minutes later, he would not have been allowed in, although there is apparently someone on duty throughout the night at Portree. People are being told they have to go to Broadford after 11pm."
But a spokesman for NHS Highland said:
"While we cannot comment on the individual case he mentioned, we can assure Rev Murray that NHS Highland is committed to continue to provide in-patient care in Portree hospital until the new facility is built, and that this commitment has not changed."
He said because of staff shortages in July because of sickness, it had been decided to reduce the number of patients being looked after in Portree to a maximum of seven "as a temporary measure in order to maintain a safe and sustainable service."
Portree Hospital’s senior charge nurse Chrisann O’Halloran, said: “We are in the unfortunate position that five of our permanent qualified nurses are off sick and we have no staff available to temporarily replace them. As things stand, we see no likelihood of any resolution until our permanent staff are able to return."
He said the minor injury unit at Portree had always only operated until 11pm and the emergency centre had always been based at Broadford.