Health board plea after protests in Caithness and Skye

Image caption,
Thousands took part in rallies in Caithness at the weekend

Health board chiefs have asked community leaders to work with them following protests against planned redesigns of local hospital services.

The protests were held on Saturday in Wick, Thurso and Portree.

Campaigners organised the events to highlight concerns about planned changes to hospital provision in Caithness and also on the Isle of Skye.

NHS Highland said it hoped community leaders would help the health board explain why changes are required.

In Caithness, where more than 2,000 people were involved in the rallies, there are concerns that the numbers of beds at community hospitals are to be cut.

NHS Highland said it was experiencing challenges in its provision of hospital services and hoped to explain these at a number of meetings planned for this week in Caithness.

Image source, Struan Mackie
Image caption,
Saturday's protests followed one held in Wick last Thursday evening

A health board spokesman said: "NHS Highland remains committed to providing safe and sustainable services as locally as possible but there continue to be a significant number of challenges.

"Therefore we need the support of our locally elected members and other opinion formers to help to explain why changes are required.

"The board simply asks that people keep an open mind around the possible options for the future and that local leaders, staff and other opinion formers work with us to design safe services which will be sustainable for all of the people of the Highlands."

The consultation process in Caithness will be independently scrutinised by the Scottish Health Council, the spokesman said.

'People have spoken'

Nicola Sinclair, a Highland councillor and a founder member of Caithness Health Action Team (CHAT), told BBC Alba that NHS Highland had to listen to concerns and ideas from communities.

She said: "NHS Highland needs to recognise the strength of feeling in the community.

"It is not enough to turn the consultation events and have pre-defined options for how they are going to cut our hospital beds."

Gail Ross, SNP MSP, for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, said it had been "great to see" so many people turn out for the Caithness protests.

She added: "The people have spoken and it is really, really important that NHS Highland's board and management listen very carefully."

On Skye, NHS Highland is to conduct what it calls an "external view" of urgent care, minor injuries and accident and emergency provision at Portree.

People living in the north of the island fear the building of a new hospital for Skye at Broadford will lead to the downgrading of local health services.

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