A retired GP has told of his "utter dismay" after it emerged a Highland community waiting 20 years for a new hospital will face further delays.

Plans to replace the “functionally unsuitable” and crumbling Belford with a new single-bedded hospital in Fort William by 2026 were agreed by NHS Highland in December last year.

The health board has now pushed the completion date back to 2028, saying the design and construction of the net-zero hospital will take longer than anticipated.

Belford was built in 1965 and is now the last of Scotland’s six rural generals to be replaced or upgraded.


A recent report by the health board found that "almost all aspects of the hospital" fail to meet modern building guidelines which has led to "significant deficiencies" in areas including infection control.

Constituency MSP Kate Forbes, currently on maternity leave from her government role as finance minister, acknowledged that 2026 - the initial date given - "feels a long way off".

A motion was debated in Highland Council yesterday, lodged by Lib Dem Councillor John Grafton, calling on Highland Council to press the Scottish Government to fast-track funding for the new hospital to this parliamentary term. The cost has been estimated at between £120-£140 million.

Maxine Smith, Independent councillor for Cromarty Firth questioned what message the dated 1960s building was sending out to tourists in an area known as the UK's outdoor capital.

She said: "It lets Fort William down."

READ MORE: Plan to replace 'cramped and financially unsuitable' hospital by 2026

The majority of councillors voted for an amendment, put forward by SNP councillor Sarah Fanet who said the motion was "premature" given NHS Highland's revised completion date.

The council agreed to push the health board for regular updates on the business model "which is key to securing funding for the project".

Dr Michael Foxley, former leader of Highland Council, said that even if government funding was brought forward, the health board "would not be ready".

In a letter to NHS Highland leader Pam Dudek he writes:"We were utterly dismayed to hear that the completion date had been set back again by two years until 2028. 

"The completion date in 2018 was 2022.


"Basically we know that give years were wasted by the NHS Highland management whilst new hospitals have been built in Aviemore and Broadford as well as the National Treatment centre in Inverness.

"We still do not have a draft clinical model to discuss, a schedule of accommodation nor a site plan for the new hospital and associated car parking."

READ MORE: Hospital delayed by 18 years could be modelled on Orkney blueprint says former head surgeon 

He added: "Locally we have been putting pressure on senior members of the SG to bring forward the funding only to find the current stage of your work will not allow for that."

John Hutchison, one of the community stakeholders, has called on NHS Highland to make the Belford a "a far higher priority" to achieve the earlier timetable.

There are approximately 10,000 A&E attendances every year at the Belford with a high proportion related to mountaineering in the recognised outdoor capital of the UK.

Kate Forbes, SNP MSP for Skye, Badenoch and Lochaber, said: “Everyone wants to see a new Belford hospital built as quickly as possible, and it has been talked about since the Lib Dems were last in the ruling administration at the Scottish Parliament – something the proposer of this motion appears to have forgotten.


“I agree that 2026 feels like a long way off, but the important thing is that plans are progressing and it will take time to  construct a new hospital as well as complete the budgetary process."

The health board is proposing to rebuild the hospital at an alternative site on the Blàr Mòr at a site purchased by Highland Council seven years ago.

Former head surgeon David Sedgwick says that when he took up the post in 1992 he was given assurances that a new hospital in Lochaber would be built within 10 years.

A spokesman for NHS Highland said: "The Scottish Government has advised that the construction funding cannot be guaranteed before April 2026, however, with their support and agreement we will progress design work for the hospital and continue to develop our business case to be ready to proceed should funding become available earlier."