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EXCLUSIVE: Highland Hospice is the new landlord of former Ullapool care home Mo Dhachaidh

By Iona M.J. MacDonald

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Uncertainty over the future of Mo Dhachaidh has been lifted.
Uncertainty over the future of Mo Dhachaidh has been lifted.

A TRAILBLAZING deal has secured the future of a vital Wester Ross facility and opened the door for future development following months of uncertainty.

A year ago, Ullapool was hit by the bombshell announcement that Mo Dhachaidh, operated by Parklands Care Homes, was to close just six months after being taken over due to "unprecedented" economic challenges.

That threw a local spotlight on the care home crisis facing the Highlands and cast doubt on the long-term future of Ullapool Health Centre, located within the same building.

It has emerged that in a deal concluded just before Christmas, Highland Hospice has bought Mo Dhachaidh and will rent the premises to NHS Highland to provide a steady income and secure the building's future.

It's understood an initial 10-year lease has been agreed – but the Highland charity made it clear that it has no intention to develop a hospice.

"We own the building, but we’re not using it ourselves," Andrew Leaver, head of income at Highland Hospice explained. "We don’t want people to get any suggestion that there's a Highland Hospice facility being created in Ullapool. We're simply a landlord like any other. It guarantees us annual income from the NHS for at least 10 years and we can use that income to provide services across the Highlands – it's part of our fundraising and income generation.

Head of income at Highland Hospice, Andrew Leaver. Picture: James MacKenzie.
Head of income at Highland Hospice, Andrew Leaver. Picture: James MacKenzie.

"We became aware that the owner of Mo Dhachaidh was looking to sell the building and we had spoken to NHS Highland because they were renting it, as well as speaking to the community – but neither had the finances to buy the building. We talked to lots of different communities about how we can support services locally, and it came up that the building was available. We did the calculations, and found we could make steady income from it, so we went ahead with negotiations and purchased it officially on December 22, 2023."

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When asked if the move is simply to ensure Highland Hospice's finances or to help protect vital services, Mr Leaver said: "It's both. It definitely benefits our finances, but we first got involved because it guarantees the village's health centre, whereas if it had sold to another owner, they may have kicked the health centre out and redeveloped the property – we're not doing that. In that way, we're helping secure Ullapool’s health centre and benefitting our own finances. Although the care home will remain closed, we’re delighted to support the NHS and the community by ensuring long-term stability of the health centre."

Topher Dawson has worked to ensure the community benefits.
Topher Dawson has worked to ensure the community benefits.

Topher Dawson of Lochbroom Community Council welcomed the building being secured for continued community/public use. He said: "The building will continue to be leased to NHS Highland for its current purposes of housing the Ullapool GP Practice, the district nursing team, and other primary health care professionals. We are aware that Highland Hospice is not currently planning to offer nursing care in the vacant upper floor but we are investigating what additional services could be offered in the building."

Local councillor Liz Kraft also voiced delight: "In order for private providers to make profit, homes need to have 50-plus beds which is not viable in remote and rural areas.We need different solutions that are community based, offer bedded respite but support care provided at home. I look forward to the development in Ullapool and commend the community, in particular Topher Dawson who worked hard to ensure the community has been heard."

MSP Maree Todd: "I want to be able to grow old in my community."
MSP Maree Todd: "I want to be able to grow old in my community."

MSP Maree Todd, who is local to Ullapool, welcomed security for the health centre and enabling of flexible social care provision.

"I want to be able to grow old in my community. We have an opportunity to develop something really innovative, that supports people to live independently in our village. Whilst I haven't been involved in commercial negotiations, as a local representative I have spent months working alongside other community representatives to find solutions."

Ron Taylor, managing director of Parklands Care Homes, said: “The closure of Mo Dhachaidh continues to be a matter of deep personal regret and I know its loss is still felt in the local community.

“I was clear at the time of its closure that I wanted Mo Dhachaidh to be retained for community use and I am pleased to confirm that we have agreed a sale of the building to Highland Hospice, a much-cherished Highland charity, who are leasing the building to NHS Highland to secure the future of the local health centre which is based there.

“I hope this news will be some consolation to the local community and I wish Highland Hospice every success as the new owners.”

An NHS Highland spokesperson said: "We are committed to the ongoing delivery of primary care services in the current Ullapool location and have been in discussions with Highland Hospice in this regard."

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