A PRIVATE hospital in Ayr has been bought by the NHS and will be turned into a dedicated hub for elective surgery, the Herald can reveal.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran struck a deal at the end of March to buy the 22-bed Carrick Glen facility from the London-based Circle Health Group - previously known as BMI Healthcare - as part of efforts to slash the backlog of patients waiting for procedures such as hip and knee replacements.

The £1.8 million purchase was authorised by the Scottish Government as part of its plans to create a Scotland-wide network of National Treatment Centres (NTCs) for elective work.

The Ayr hub will specialise in orthopaedics.

The deal, first revealed by the Herald, was confirmed by Health Secretary Humza Yousaf during a visit to University Hospital Ayr today.

He said: "We know that the pandemic has taken its toll on services like orthopaedics, but the network of NTCs will help address this and will be central to NHS recovery.

“I would like to thank the NHS Ayrshire & Arran team for their continued hard work and determination to progress the new Centre during a time of continued significant pressure."

The health board will take over occupancy at Carrick Glen from May 14, and a full business case for its redevelopment is expected to be signed off July this year, according to the minutes of the health board's Capital Investment Plan.

Board papers state that the redevelopment is expected to be completed in August 2023 at a total cost - separate to the acquisition price - of £20-24,000, with £12,000 earmarked for the current financial year.

Carrick Glen currently as 22 en-suite patient bedrooms with satellite television, along with one operating theatre, five consultation rooms and on-site diagnostic scanning facilities.

However, staff shortages mean it has been run as an outpatient and minor procedures clinic only since 2018.

READ MORE: One in 20 patients waiting over two years for operations on NHS

The deal has been compared to the creation of a "mini Golden Jubilee" - the private hospital in Clydebank purchased for £37.5 million by the then-Scottish Executive in 2002 from the Abu Dhabi Investment Group, which is run as a specialist elective centre treating NHS patients from across Scotland.

Once established, the NTC network is expected to enable over 40,000 additional elective surgeries and procedures to be carried out on the NHS in Scotland every year.

However, the Scottish Government said it does not expect any other private facilities to be taken over by the NHS.

HeraldScotland: National Treatment Centre plan (Scottish Government)National Treatment Centre plan (Scottish Government)

The NTC vision, outlined in the Recovery Plan published in August, anticipates that the elective surgical hub in Ayrshire will open in 2025.

The first phase of NTCs are scheduled to launch in Fife, Forth Valley and Inverness later this year, largely specialising in orthopaedics, followed by an expanded Golden Jubilee service in 2023 providing orthopaedics, endoscopy and general surgery, with a further four NTCs due to open in Aberdeen, Perth, Livingston and Cumbernauld in 2025 and 2026 which will cover a range of elective services including CT and MRI scans, various surgeries, and eye procedures.

Disruption to non-urgent elective surgery as a result of the pandemic has seen the number of patients on waiting lists for surgery and outpatient treatment spiral from 362,000 in December 2019 to a record-breaking 539,000 by December 2021.

READ MORE: Scots self-funding private treatment up 68% since pandemic hit

Across Scotland, the number of patients waiting over two years for an inpatient or day case procedure had soared from just 150 in December 2019 to 5,300 - equivalent to one in 20 patients on the list - by the end of last year.

Clinicians first called on NHS bosses to consider buying Carrick Glen in 2018 as a way to drive down waiting times in the region, particularly for orthopaedics, but the plea was rejected.

Dr Gavin Tait, a former clinical director at NHS Ayrshire and Arran who worked as a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Crosshouse Hospital for nearly 30 years until his retirement in 2016, said the buyout was welcome - but long overdue.

He bemoaned the “seven lost years if it opens in 2025”, adding that the impact of Covid on waiting times might have been “much less” if it had been purchased earlier.

He added: "[This is] vindication and a great opportunity to improve the elective orthopaedic service and shorten waiting times. The alternative would be the status quo and an increasingly poor service."

READ MORE: Postcode lottery sees patients in north of Ayrshire wait nearly twice as long for joint surgery

Dr Tait also welcomed immediate plans to split orthopaedics, with University Hospital Ayr becoming elective-only - performing only planned hip and knee replacements - while Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock focuses on trauma orthopaedics.

Until now, both hospitals performed elective orthopaedics but Crosshouse was also responsible for trauma surgeries, meaning planned joint procedures could be cancelled at short notice if theatre space was suddenly required to deal with an elderly patient who had broken their hip in a fall or a car crash victim with multiple broken bones.

HeraldScotland: Gavin TaitGavin Tait

The situation had resulted in patients from the north of Ayrshire - who were generally referred to Crosshouse - waiting nearly twice as long for hip and knee replacements compared to those sent to Ayr.

"Geographical separation of elective surgery facilities from general acute hospitals is the only way to go," said Dr Tait.

Dr Joellene Mitchell, consultant anaesthetist and co-clinical lead for the NTC Ayrshire & Arran said:  "We are excited about the purchase of Carrick Glen Hospital to become NHS Ayrshire & Arran’s new National Treatment Centre and what that will mean for residents of Ayrshire and Arran. 

“The NTC aims to create additional access to theatre sessions, increase orthopaedic inpatient beds and improve orthopaedic pathways through a whole scale review and redesign of processes, services, staffing and accommodation.  

"It will complement the elective centre of excellence on the University Hospital Ayr site, and will mean that we can treat more patients, reducing waiting times and improving patient experience.”