THE head of a north coast community council has hit out at NHS Highland over its plans to close a residential care home for the elderly in her area and build a new "health hub" 26 miles away.
Janette Mackay, chairwoman of Strathy Community Council, said it was "madness" to consider shutting Melvich Community Care Unit, which is also known by its address – Sinclair Court.
And she had a stark message to NHS managers – hands off the unit!
Mrs Mackay was talking as a "glowing" report on the tiny six-bed care home, which also offers day care, was published by the Care Inspectorate this week (see p3).
Meanwhile, other community councillors along the north coast have also voiced their criticism of an overall plan to "redesign" health services in the area.
Discussions over the shake-up have been ongoing for a number of years now with a public consultation exercise and an "options appraisal" carried out.
NHS Highland now intends closing down not just Sinclair Court but also another six-bed geriatric care unit on the north coast, Caladh Sona in Melness.
The two small units are operated by Highland Council and Caladh Sona in particular is deemed not meet modern day safety and environmental standards. Difficulties in recruiting staff have also been experienced.
They are to be replaced by a centralised, new build "community hub" on a site in the Kyle of Tongue area.
The plan was approved by NHS Highland’s board of management at its January meeting.
The last meeting of the steering group overseeing the service shake-up took place in Strathy on Friday, March 24. A statement released afterwards revealed the specification for the hub as regards workforce, site requirements and costs had still to be discussed. The number of beds it will have has also still to be worked out.
It is understood £1.5 million was set aside by Highland Council in 2014 to cover the costs of a new Caladh Sona, and this will fund the new hub.
But community councillors claim it is simply not enough and questions have also been asked over the length of time it is taking to get the project off the ground.
The redesign was on the agenda at the March 28 meeting of Bettyhill, Strathnaver and Altnaharra Community Council. Secretary Jim Johnston told the Northern Times this week: "The proposal to close the two facilities and replace them with an all-singing, all-dancing, hub does not seem realistic to us given the relatively small amount of money on the table. You do not get much for £1.5 million.
"We believe it might lead to a diminution of services in the area."
Mr Johnston also queried the lack of progress on developing the hub.
Bettyhill, Strathnaver and Altnaharra Community Council chairwoman Sandra Munro has attended every one of the redesign meetings.
She said she had been so frustrated during one meeting when a presentation was shown on health care in Anchorage, Alaska, that she had walked out.
She said: "It is all taking a very long time. Originally it was only going to be three meetings but these three meetings have turned into a lot more. Every meeting is going to be the last. You could write a book on it. The whole thing is sheer madness."
Ms Munro conceded there were drawbacks with Caladh Sona, including the unit’s narrow corridors. But she suggested a replacement unit could be built on land offered by a local grazings committee.
Meanwhile Strathy and Armadale community council chairwoman Jeanette Mackay said: "Sinclair Court is so successful and has just received a glowing report.
"It provides an essential service and is great source of employment in our little community.
"Why do they want to close this little home and replace it with a new home 20 miles away? Who do they imagine is going to travel that distance for day care and how are they going to get there – we have no bus or taxi service. When they have got something that works and works well and is serving the community in lots of ways - just hands off! We don’t need a hub. We just need a little care home like we have now."
She added: "I do accept that Caladh Sona needs to rebuilt or refurbished. They should have done that three years ago instead of spending money on meetings and reviews and consultations."
And Mrs Mackay hinted that NHS Highland may yet have fight on its hands.
She said: "We are really disappointed that they are going to close Sinclair Court but we may have a last push on it in the light of the Care Inspectorate’s glowing report."
An NHS Highland spokesman said: "We agree that there is nothing wrong with the care provided in these much loved homes.
"The problem, however, is that the
buildings are no longer fit for purpose and we
also need to change the model of care to reflect the wider challenges around
staffing and the changing needs of the population.
"This was supported by the public consultation where there was a consensus that the current model did have to change.
"We have still to carry out a full financial appraisal and confirm the detail of how many beds there will be in in the new home."