U-turn on funding for partially-built health centre amid community pressure

The Scottish Government had suspended major upgrades to the medical facility but has relented following pressure from locals.

A Highland hospital is to have its upgrade completed after campaigners urged the government to lift a capital spending freeze.

It means Grantown-on-Spey will have its partly-built new health centre completed nine years after its £2.3m investment was approved.

Delays on the building works were expected to cost NHS Highland £500,000 due to contractual obligations.

It’s hoped the facility will open in November 2024.

Cross-party politicians Fergus Ewing, Rhoda Grant and Edward Mountain joined staff and patients to press ministers to overturn a parliamentary announcement that froze all NHS capital projects in Scotland due to budgetary pressures.

Ewing commended recently appointed Scottish health secretary Neil Gray “for having the guts to do this.”

The SNP MSP said: “He did so because he was satisfied on the case of the evidence, that not to go ahead with it would actually cost more money at the end of the day, because an old building here would have to be brought back into use.

“So, it was a false economy. I mean, it was bonkers, really.”

Grantown Health CentreSTV News

Confirming the decision, a spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “As a result of the UK Government failing to inflation-proof its capital budget, latest forecasts show the Scottish Government’s block grant for capital is expected to reduce in real terms by over £1.3bn by 2027-28.

“The result of this cut is that while projects in construction will be completed, new health capital projects have been paused while a revised infrastructure investment pipeline is prepared.”

But she added: “As the upgrade of the Grantown-on-Spey medical practice has already started and is a key part of the redesign of services for Badenoch and Strathspey, the health secretary has decided it should be considered as project in construction.”

The pause in transforming the ageing health centre prompted staff to arrange a public meeting to demand the freeze on spending be lifted in March

Kathy Cockman, executive manager at the health centre said: “I think we just had a very strong case and we made the case as best as we could and asked for strong consideration.

“I think the support that we got from our MSPs and the fact that it was a unified effort rather than across political lines probably made the difference, as well.

“They encouraged our patients to let both them and parliament know just how much it meant to us, to be able to get this finished and they worked very hard to do that.

“We’re really, really grateful to them. It made such a difference for us to have that level of support.”

Numerous other NHS capital projects have also been postponed, including a replacement Belford Hospital for Fort William.

Construction work at nearby Blar Mhor, on a site purchased nine years ago, was also to begin this year.

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