SNP MSP Kate Forbes is seeking urgent talks with health board leaders amid concern a 'shovel ready' new Highland hospital promised to a community 20 years ago could be taken off the table.

In documents leaked to The Herald NHS Highland says it will require to substantially reduce spend following the Scottish Government’s budget announcement in December.

The health board said it has been advised by Scottish Government to stop any project development and is re-assessing the plan to rebuild the crumbling Belford hospital in Fort William, which is Scotland’s busiest rural general.

The Herald: A new hospital was planned by 2002 in Fort William A new hospital was planned by 2002 in Fort William (Image: Colin Mearns/Newsquest)

It said funds available would be focussed on the maintenance of the estate.

Preparatory ground works have already taken place for the new Belford, with construction work due to get underway next year and a completion date set for 2028.

A pressure group has been led by former head surgeon David Sedgwick, retired GP and former Highland council leader Michael Foxley and John Hutchison, also ex-council.

The Herald: Dr Michael Foxley, John Hutchison and David Sedgwick who have led efforts to rebuild Fort William's crumbling Belford hospitalDr Michael Foxley, John Hutchison and David Sedgwick who have led efforts to rebuild Fort William's crumbling Belford hospital (Image: Colin Mearns/Newsquest)

Mr Sedgwick was told in 1992 that he “would be working in a new hospital within ten years.”

Kate Forbes SNP MSP for Lochaber, Skye and Badenoch said: “Community campaigners have fought tooth and nail to ensure that plans for a new hospital progressed, with widespread agreement, and it is now shovel-ready.

“I recognise constraints over public finances just now - but moral of the story is that if NHS Highland hadn’t dithered over progressing plans between 2015 and 2020, the New Belford might have even been built right now.

“Considering the amount of time and finance to get the project to this stage, I would urge NHS Highland not to allow any capital review to derail this project.


“I have written to NHS Highland and to the Scottish Government to ask for a meeting and to unequivocally express my complete opposition to anything which jeopardises the build of a New Belford. 

“I kickstarted plans for a new hospital back in 2020, years after it was first pledged in 1999. It had restarted and stalled multiple times since then. There is no doubt that the current building is not fit for purpose and also that new facilities are long overdue."

Mr Sedgwick, who is part of the project stakeholder group, said the setback would be a huge blow to the community and to the morale of Belford staff.

He said: "Since my appointment in 1992, when I was told that I would be working in a new hospital within 10 years, there have been new hospitals in NHS Highland in Invergordon, Nairn, Oban, Bonar Bridge, Aviemore and Broadford.

"It seems ironic that the busiest of the six rural general hospitals in the Highlands and Islands and the second busiest in NHS Highland area should be the last to receive a redevelopment."

Dr Foxley added: "Within an hour of this disastrous setback, members of the community stakeholders group met with the senior executives of the NHSH team. 

"We expressed our very serious disappointment and despair at this announcement.

"A new hospital has been planned for over 30 years. In 2018, it was due to open in 2022.

"Despite this announcement, we asked the NHS Highland team that work must continue on the design work. We are very close to a realistic start."

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

A 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.

The hospital is the main centre for mountain accidents on Ben Nevis.

Mr Hutchison, said: “Things were on track to have the planning application lodged around April and the Outline Business Case with the Scottish Government around October.  

"We would urge NHS Highland, and all our political representatives, to come together and recognise that with only a few months more work we would reach these crucial milestones."

Plans to replace Caithness general hospital are also under review.

NHS Highland said last week had been “particularly challenging” week with Raigmore Hospital reaching the maximum level of operational pressure.

Both the Belford and Caithness general hospitals have also been forced to open additional beds due to winter pressures.

A health board spokeswoman said: “Our staff and communities have invested time and effort into these projects and we know this news will be difficult to hear. We are contacting key stakeholders as a priority so that we can work through the implications with them.”