Hundreds protest decision to halt construction of new hospital

Work at a site in the Blar Mhor area near Caol was due to begin this year.

Hundreds protest decision to halt construction of new hospital in Fort William STV News

More than 500 people have vented their anger at a decision to halt the construction of a new hospital in Fort William.

A replacement for the ageing Belford Hospital in the town was first mooted almost 30 years ago.

Officials secured a site a few miles away at Blar Mhor nine years ago and construction was due to start this year, with an aim to have the hospital completed in 2028.

Former Belford Hospital consultant David Sedgwick said: “We’re two hours from Inverness, which is where the biggest district general hospital is. We’re two-and-a-half hours from Glasgow, in the other direction.

“And, so, local people, some travelling for two hours to get to us, would then have to travel for another two hours and that’s not acceptable for routine medical and surgical procedures.”

The Scottish Government blames the level of UK Government funding. A grant for capital spending is expected to be reduced by more than £1.3bn over the next four years.

A spokeswoman said the priorities would be addressing maintenance and replacing essential equipment.

The Belford’s A&E department was revamped in 1998. Otherwise, little has changed in 60 years.

There was cross-party support for the weekend protest – including from the local SNP MSP.

Kate Forbes, the former finance minister who represents Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, said: “It’s little wonder that the Scottish Government are having to review their capital projects.

“At the end of the day, however, I do believe that where projects have made good progress and money has already been spent on them, it would be very wasteful for the projects to be pulled knowing that, for example, over £1m has been invested in them to bring them to this point.”

Campaigners urged NHS Highland to do more.

Community advocate John Hutchison said: “We know that they’re an arm of government, etcetera. But we do expect them to stand up for the people.

“And rather than acquiesce completely, we would like them to push back a bit on this and try to help make the case that we can continue on to stage three and get the outline business case. We’ve waited long enough.”

The health board describes the pause in capital funding as disappointing, saying it recognises the community needs to be heard.

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