Speculation that the region’s four community hospitals could be closed has “got out of hand”, according to the chairman of NHS Borders.
Leading a delegation at Scottish Borders Council’s (SBC) final meeting of the year in response to what he admitted was a “furore”, John Raine claimed some media coverage of a review of all clinical services in the region had been alarmist.
“At no time has the health board spoken about closures, but that is unfortunately how the review has been interpreted,” said Mr Raine.
“However, the public reaction has served to reinforce just how passionately communities care about their local facilities.”
NHS Borders has already confirmed that a report on how its review will be taken forward, starting with the process for the 23-bed community hospitals in Hawick, Kelso, Peebles and Duns, will be considered at the board’s February meeting.
A timescale for “effective engagement with the public, staff and other stakeholders” will also be set at that gathering.
After listening to Mr Raine’s presentation, Councillor Stuart Marshall said closing the Hawick hospital would “rip the heart out of our town”.
Councillor Watson McAteer, also from Hawick, said: “No one should be surprised that people have a passionate interest in maintaining their community hospitals.
“What we need now is an assurance that any consultation with the public on the outcome of the review is as inclusive and transparent as it can be. It must not be seen as a fait accompli.”
And a third Hawick councillor, Davie Paterson, demanded a “categorical guarantee” from Mr Raine that the town’s hospital would not be closed.
Mr Raine responded: “Such speculation has got out of hand ... we are carrying out a review so it would be wrong of me to give absolute assurances because we cannot pre-empt the outcome.” But he promised full consultation with councillors and their constituents on any review proposals through the SBC network of area forums.
Earlier, the NHS Borders delegation had stressed the unsustainability of the status quo for a health service under severe financial pressure, not least from the demands of an ageing population.
“We need to change the way we do things,” said medical director Dr Sheena MacDonald, claiming that, under current in-patient arrangements, provision of an extra 27 beds a year for the next seven years would be required.
And she cited cost pressures beyond the control of the board, including the price of drugs.
“One drug, which cost us £3 just four weeks ago, now costs us £47,” she revealed.