Health chiefs calling for Borders hospital’s laundry to be spared from axe as part of national shake-up

Health bosses in the Borders are calling for the laundry at the region’s general hospital to be spared from the axe as part of a nationwide rejig of such services.

By Paul Kelly
Thursday, 5th March 2020, 2:35 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th March 2020, 5:53 pm
MSP Rachael Hamilton at the Borders General Hospital.
MSP Rachael Hamilton at the Borders General Hospital.

They’ve told NHS Scotland chiefs they want it to remain open to save them having to send patients’ bedding and medics’ clothing miles away to be washed.

They have stopped short of ruling out shutting it down, however.

That plea for the service to be saved was prompted by a review by NHS Scotland’s national laundry programme board earmarking various facilities for closure.

One of the technical recommendations made as part of that review is to cease to operate a full-production laundry at the Melrose hospital.

NHS Borders, though, has requested that an option to retain its laundry remain on the table irrespective of how handy alternative sites might be deemed to be.

The regional trust points out that no decision has been made by national health chiefs yet and stresses that the final say on the laundry’s fate rests with its own board at Newstead rather than further afield in any event.

Those assurances have failed to quell concerns that the laundry could fall victim to a centralisation exercise to cut costs, however.

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton remains fearful for the laundry’s future, saying: “This is worrying news coming from NHS Scotland, and there is considerable concern over the decision.

“The Scottish NHS is underfunded by the SNP government and that leads to pressure on vital services. However, this decision to cut laundries is ill advised.

“Hospitals must have to clean a massive amount of bedding and other clothing every day, and, in the current climate, we need to have facilities ready to potentially deal with the spread of disease.”

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont agrees, saying: “The laundry at the Borders General Hospital could become another victim of NHS cuts due to an SNP government failing to properly resource our health service.

“We need clarity from NHS Borders, who are ultimately going to make the final decision on the closure, sooner rather than later.

“I am concerned at the possible impact it will have on staff and the daily operation of the hospital.

“It is a worrying time for the staff employed to operate this vital service.”

Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame begs to differ, though, insisting that it is too early to jump to any conclusions about the fate of the laundry.

She said: “My understanding is that this is still at the review stage.

“The laundry programme board has sought to develop a plan to ensure that its services are safe and sustainable.

“No actual proposals are on the table yet, and it will be for NHS Borders to review the business case, with the final decision to be taken by the cabinet secretary for health and sport.

“The Scottish Government will not approve any plans that put patient welfare at risk, and the current situation with coronavirus will very much feed into these decisions. NHS boards must be appropriately equipped to deal with any current or future outbreak.

“The Scottish Government’s budget for 2020-21 includes investments of £15bn in health and care services to ensure that services are properly resourced and that the Scottish NHS can continue to be the best performing in the UK.

“Any decision on laundry services will be taken in the context of what is best for patient safety.”

An NHS Borders spokesperson pledged that its laundry staff would be kept fully updated on developments, adding: “Over the last few years, NHS Scotland has reviewed a number of services to assess whether there are more effective ways to deliver these across Scotland.

“This is to take account of resources, workforce and ensuring our services are as sustainable as possible.

“One aspect of this work has been a national laundry review that has reviewed laundry units across Scotland,including the Borders’ laundry.

“As part of this process, NHS Borders specifically requested the option of retaining the laundry at the Borders General Hospital regardless of where other laundries were located across Scotland.

“The national work has now been concluded and the technical recommendation from the national laundry programme board does not include maintaining a full-production laundry on the Borders General Hospital site.

“However, it should be recognised that this is only a technical recommendation at this stage and the business case and recommendation now has to be considered and further assessed by a number of groups over the next few months before a final position is reached on behalf of NHS Scotland.

“Regardless of the national conclusions, it is also important to emphasise that ultimately the final decision on the future of the laundry in the Borders General Hospital will be the decision of NHS Borders’ board.

“We have briefed our laundry staff on the position this work has reached and are now in the process of writing to the many valued customers, across the Borders, who also receive a laundry service from us. This will emphasise that we continue to provide business as usual to our normal high standards.

“We will keep staff and customers up to date with what happens next, and while we are not in a position to provide detailed timescales currently, these will be communicated as soon as they are available.”